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What does the Bible say about forgiveness? How does forgiveness really work?

When Forgiveness Hurts — by Dr. Evan Parks

Postby jimwalton » Mon Mar 24, 2014 10:56 am

Does forgiveness set us free and break the chains that bind us? For some people, this may be true—we are set free from bitterness and resentment when we forgive. But what happens to the pain we feel? What happens when we forgive, and we still hurt? Sometimes we are faced with hurtful people who do not change and painful situations that will not go away. What do we do then?

We learn the word “forgiveness” as young children, and we assume we know what the word means. Let me challenge your understanding of this word. How do you define it? Does it mean forgetting? Does it mean we pretend that nothing ever happened? These are the common definitions we hear.

Words that are associated with values and ethics, like the word forgiveness, require us to look at what God teaches about the concept. He is the one who gives the correct meaning to ideas like forgiveness, goodness, and evil. In the Bible, we find there are two types of forgiveness; there is forgiveness that God provides and forgiveness that we extend to others and ourselves.

God’s Forgiveness

There is no portion of the Bible that does not include some picture, story, or direct teaching on the concept of forgiveness. It is central to the message of Scripture. God forgives our sin. God’s heart of love and compassion for humankind is beyond our ability to fully comprehend. It is not just God’s love that drives His forgiveness. God is just. In order for God to forgive, He must also be just and punish sin.
The forgiveness that God offers can be called, “judicial forgiveness”. Judicial forgiveness is forgiveness that can only be given by someone who has the right to judge and sentence others. God has this right over all of us. There are three elements of judicial forgiveness.

1. God’s forgiveness completely removes sin (1 John 1:9). God removes a person’s sin and replaces it with righteousness.

2. God’s forgiveness requires justice—God has to punish sin. The forgiveness we receive from God is only possible because Jesus Christ absorbed the full weight of God’s wrath and punishment on himself. This was the punished we were meant to receive. God says that His judicial forgiveness requires shed blood (Heb. 9:22).

3. God’s forgiveness is only available to the person who turns away from their sin and asks for forgiveness (Acts 3:19).

In summary, we can see when God forgives:
• He completely removes sin.
• He requires shed blood.
• He requires repentance.

We also know from the Bible that God’s forgiveness does not always remove the consequences of our sin. When Israel rebelled against God in the desert and refused to enter the Promised Land, God forgave them. He completely removed their sin, but He did not remove the consequences of their rebellion. Those who rebelled were not allowed to enter the Promised Land (Num. 14:20-23). The same is true when God forgave David for his sin with Bathsheba (2 Sam. 12:10-14). Forgiveness was immediate, yet the consequences of the sin remained in David’s life and on his family.

Personal Forgiveness

Our forgiveness of others needs to be modeled after the example we have from God. How does this work if we cannot remove sin or administer true justice for the punishment of sin? Obviously, our forgiveness is limited when compared to God’s. When we forgive others, they will still need to seek forgiveness from God and turn from their sin to be truly forgiven. There are four key elements of our forgiveness that are patterned after God’s judicial forgiveness.

1. Personal forgiveness requires that we let go of our desire for personal revenge. The main reason we don’t forgive is our wish for the person who hurt us to experience the same pain that we feel. This wish that someone suffer as we suffer is called revenge. Revenge is the exact opposite of forgiveness. When we forgive, we give up our desire that another person experiences our pain. This is hard to do. But we can see that when God forgives, He turns away from vengeance (1 Pet. 2:23). He takes away the threat of punishment and pain for the person who has sinned.

2. The second element of forgiveness is that we bear the pain others have caused us. Again, this is exactly what God has done (1 Pet. 3:18). He took on himself the pain that we caused Him. Every time we participate in communion (the Lord’s Supper), we are invited by God to remember that our forgiveness caused God to lose His only Son (1 Cor. 11:23-26). When we forgive, we too will have to carry the pain others have caused us. I believe it is only with God’s help we will be able to bear this burden. He will give us the strength we need and the peace that truly satisfies.

3. The third element of personal forgiveness is our need to extend grace to the one who hurt us (Matt. 5:43-48). We do not ignore the difficult people in our lives, but we ask God for the opportunity to bless them. This may simply begin by being willing to pray for those who have caused us pain, and to wish for their blessing.

4. Finally, when we forgive others, we need to leave room for God’s judgment. Given that we are made in God’s image, we desire justice. Our longing for things to be made right is normal, but we have to turn this desire over to God and trust that he will do what is right. We can have confidence that He will be deal with all sin and unrighteousness (Romans 12:17-21).

We are called to be like God in all that we do. When we forgive, we give up our demand that others pay for the injustice against us, and we drop the evidence against them. Doing this comes at a cost to us personally. Taking a step in the direction of forgiveness requires faith. We can trust that God’s plan is the best.

- Dr. Evan Parks
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