I have been saying forgiveness, like love is a choice and I want to make that point in this post once again. This time I want to look at it theologically. I have said previously forgiveness is not something that comes naturally to us rather something we must learn to do. Just as we love because God loved us first (1 John 4:19) we forgive because we have been forgiven first. Because God has blessed us with a free will that free will must be exercised in a manner giving glory to Him. We do that by choosing the things that reflect who he is in our lives. In a sense, forgiving is a free will choice intimately connected to love.
I used to enjoy arguing with people who did not believe in the gospel as fervently as I did. I was less an evangelist in these situations and more of a gospel terrorist. My life changed drastically when the very church I was defending turned on me and treated me very callously in a time of need and vulnerability. It made me think really hard about how to treat other people, particularly those who did not believe as I believed. It made me realize I needed to start by loving them first. I made a decision that no matter how different they were from me or how much they did not believe as I did, I would love them first and then allow God to use me as he desired. Forgiveness is a similar process. Forgiveness requires us to make a choice to extend love and good will toward another person. It requires finding a way to love the person first and then to let God do what he will in their lives.
When we forgive, we extend as much love and goodwill as possible toward the one who hurt us because God requires it. In this way we are exercising our vocation to be images of his love in a world of hurt and destruction. Forgiveness is an act of obedience. It’s a choice to do something our natural self believes foolish. Forgiveness is intimately connected to the commandment to love our neighbor, even when that neighbor is acting unjustly and hurtfully. That’s why forgiveness comes from a heart of obedience, because our natural tendency is to hurt the one who hurt us. In Colossians 3:13 Paul clearly asks his community to be forgiving in obedience to God. He writes:
“Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
And to remind us that forgiveness is a process of growing in grace and not a natural choice rather one coming from God, Paul writes the following to the Philippians (1:6):
“I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.”
So at this point we can appreciate that God asks us to be obedient to him and just as we are charged to love those who love us so are we charged to extend this love and goodwill to those who have hurt us. Christ reminded us in Matthew 5:47 that to love only those who love us is nothing special, even the gentiles do that. To love those who are unlovable, that is the Christian vocation. This extending of good will and love is forgiveness.
But in the end remember this. When we forgive it may feel like we are giving in to something or saying what someone did to us is “okay” and that’s not what we are doing. By forgiving someone we are really saying “I will no longer let you have control over me.” Forgiveness is a path to freedom. We must embrace that path by choosing to walk on it one step at a time. In all my workshops the hardest step for someone to take is this first one. Choose to forgive, it is Godly, liberating, and allows you to live a flourishing healthy psychological, spiritual, physical, emotional and relational life.