Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Other Half of Forgiveness

The Bible has a lot to say about Forgiveness and its central role
in the life of a Believer; Jesus Himself included it in the Lord's Prayer,
and He specifically told His disciples, "if you forgive men when they sin
against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not
forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." Mathew 6:14,15

In my own spiritual journey, I've come to understand Forgiveness as an utterly
fundamental goal of the process of Sanctification in our lives,
along with Humility and Wisdom, and all three of those rooted and grounded in the
most supreme quality of all, LOVE Itself...

As I've pondered this, and read a great deal on it, I've come to understand that
there are really two halves to this idea of Forgiveness; most of us understand
the first, but perhaps few have contemplated the second:

Debt Relief
When we extend TRUE Forgiveness to someone, we are saying to them, "I permanently
waive any 'debt' that you owe to me for what you've said or done to me; I will not
attempt to 'get back at you' or otherwise and in any way try to 'punish' you or
make you feel 'guilty' for this offense."

Like so much of the Christian world view, this would seem to go totally contrary
to the World's perspective, which preaches that we have the "right" to exact
justice for harms we've suffered, to "get back" at someone, to "make them pay"
for what they've done... Sometimes, though, even the secular world understands
that this kind of retributive approach not only (a) eats away at one's soul, but
also (b) ignores the truth that we ALL sometimes do and/or say things that we, too,
need Forgiveness for...

This is a hard thing to do, most of the time -- to let go of our "right"
to "hit back" -- but it is fundamental to the Sanctification of our souls to
understand this requirement and to practice it daily. There is no way around it.

Some years ago, someone I knew -- I'll call this person "Pat" -- unleashed a
furious tirade against me over some inconsequential circumstance, saying horrible
things and non-verbally communicating a good deal of hostility and malice toward me,
wild-eyed and waving arms... It was quite a sight...

The next morning, Pat came to me, teary-eyed, noting the bad behavior and expressing
remorse over it; for my part, I wanted to share, in that moment, how the behavior
had made me feel and what some of the real circumstances were that had apparently
"caused" the tirade... I didn't get 2 sentences out before Pat's expression changed
to a hardened, patronizing glare, and the rebuke I received was, "I've said I was
sorry, now YOU need to Forgive..."

It became immediately apparent that Pat's only goal was to be absolved of Guilt,
to have me apply salve to a stinging conscience, only so that Pat could feel
better... The "apology" really had nothing to do with me at all; I was only a
player in Pat's quest to obtain personal peace and a restored view of Self...

Well of course I had already forgiven Pat the night before, almost as soon as
it happened (as we become more and more aware of our OWN desperate need for
continual Forgiveness, it becomes easier and easier to Forgive others quickly
and sincerely)... But what Pat's reaction made me realize was that Pat had no
interest in RELATIONSHIP, either before or after the incident...

In many human relationships, and certainly in our relationship to God,
the "second half" of Forgiveness -- the GOAL of Forgiveness -- is the beginning
of RESTORATION of that relationship...

Restoration is the process (and sometimes it may be a long process) of building
back the Trust that was damaged by the behavior, to arrive once again at the level
of Intimacy that the relationship is intended to provide... God certainly FORGIVES
us when we sin, and He is even willing to expedite the Restoration process, I have
to believe, but we might do well to ask ourselves, when we ask for
"Forgiveness", do we really intend to then move on toward Restoration?
Is it relationship with God that we seek, or mere absolution of our own feelings
of Guilt?

Thanks be to God that Jesus took on the Guilt and then the Punishment
for our sins, and one day (as part of the completion of our Sanctification)
our Sinfulness will be ripped away (and I believe it's going to be painful), but
for now, we can enjoy Forgiveness when we ask God for it sincerely, and we can even
begin, just a little bit, to enjoy something like Relationship to Him, in this life,
if perhaps shrouded in mystery, for now...