The benefits of forgiveness
Most of us avoid forgiveness like the plague because we do not want to look at our wounds. Wounds are scary, they are nasty, they are icky, it is why most of us look away when we donate blood. It is way easier to take all of that emotion and channel it into rage at another person.
In a stunning example of forgiveness, the Muslim father of one of two eight-year-old boys killed when a car crashed into a school in Sydney in November 2017 publicly forgave the woman who killed his son. He said, “We have a special message here for the lady that was involved in the accident. We want to sit with her and talk with her and tell her ‘we forgive you’. No retaliation is coming from the family of the boy, they have forgiven”. The boy’s family also disapproved of any harassment of the driver involved in the accident that killed the boys.
This blogpost is a summary of a presentation on Forgiveness by Dr. Xavier Lakshmanan. It’s not an easy topic because we live in a broken guilt-driven community. But it shows the benefits of living a forgiven life – forgiveness is an act of love and strength that leads to wellbeing.
Forgiveness is a readiness to pardon offenses, to overlook personal wrongs against oneself, and to harbor no desire for retaliation. It implies reconciliation, peace, tolerance and considering others.
According to the Bible, forgiveness brings many blessings. It speaks about God’s act of individual and corporate forgiveness. God gives us the opportunity to ask for forgiveness and to forgive others. Groups and communities can also come to forgiveness. The New Testament also puts a very special emphasis on believer’s mutual forgiveness. God forgives us and asks us to forgive others.
The Bible says to believers, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Eph. 4:32NIV). It says:
– God forgives, while believers receive God’s forgiveness. Their guilt is removed and they can live well in this world and in the world to come.
– Believers are commanded to forgive others as God forgave them in Christ Jesus. This is the standard of a forgiven life.
Christian forgiveness is like a coin; it has two sides. One side of the coin is accepting God’s gift of forgiveness. The other side is extending that gift of forgiveness coming from the Lord to others wherever we are. So forgiveness is both a divine gift and a task involving our relationship with others.
Forgiveness is a gift
Forgiveness is a gift from God. The Old Testament uses the following Hebrew words for forgiveness in relation to salvation.
Kapar means “God covering human sins by offering a sacrifice as a substitute for the life of a sinner”. It’s not accepting a sin and saying “that’s alright”, or “let’s forget about it”. It’s an act of God taking everything seriously. Saying sin offends. Sin brings chaos and calamity. Sin has consequences. In the Old Testament, the whole idea of atonement is based on sacrifice; the shedding of blood for the remission of sins. This means that sin is a serious offence. Forgiveness is a serious virtue which God is providing. The greatest example of this is when Jesus died for our sins and we can accept that offer and be free from the guilt and penalty of our sin.
Nasa means “guilt being taken away from the sinner. It’s removal of the burden of guilt when we accept God’s gift. While sala means the “function of forgiveness”.
Maha expresses God “wiping away” sins and kasa conveys the idea of “covering or concealing the person”. When God judges sin, He protects forgiven sinners.
The New Testament uses the following terms of forgiveness.
Apolyo expresses the analogy of sin as debt and it means “God removing the debt and releasing the sinner from it”. It involves sacrifice, payment and freedom. That’s what we see on the cross of Calvary.
Paresis means God “passing over” sin. God doesn’t consider the days of ignorance, but passes over them. When we come to Jesus, His death, covers everything that we have done. While aphesis conveys God “putting away sin completely and unreservedly”. Forgiveness brings us to an unconditional standing with God, including the privileges of God’s kingdom, the privileges of God’s promises, and the privileges of God’s children.
Charizomai expresses “the graciousness of God’s pardon” and God’s “act of blotting out sin” and granting the sinner freedom. God isn’t going to recall our sin; “as far as the east is from the west, so far has He [God] removed our transgressions from us” (Ps. 103:12). Do not live in guilt. If you trust in Jesus Christ, you have peace, reconciliation, and restoration with God. And you can celebrate your life in Christ Jesus. Relax in the presence of God.
So Christian forgiveness is the once-for-all pardon that we receive when we accept God’s promise in Christ Jesus. It’s as simple as that. And it’s also the way to maintain a close living fellowship with our Lord and His people. You forgive yourself and you forgive others and you accept the forgiveness of God. God’s act of forgiveness is a gift of grace that displays God’s love, freedom, deliverance, care, perfection, cleansing and restoration. Forgiveness involves everything that we need to live as children of God.
One of the greatest passages on forgiveness as a gift is, “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; He has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” (Col. 2:13-15). This is a summary of the salvation experience. As God has taken away our sin and brokenness, we are called to live for His glory. We not only receive God’s forgiveness, but we must give that forgiveness to others. Then our relationships can be heaven-like. An unforgiving spirit is a weakness.
Karl Bath exclaimed, Christians “live by forgiveness” and every Christian should begin a day with a confession: “I believe in the forgiveness of sins”. At death, one has nothing to confess but “God’s gracious act of forgiveness”. Hence a genuine Christian life is lived in full awareness of forgiveness, accepting that God sees me anew and adopts me anew in His light. Bath recognized that believers are also commanded and enabled by God to be merciful to forgive their debtors, to comfort others, and to outshine the light of forgiveness.
Forgiveness is a task
Giving forgiveness is a command that brings to others what believers have received from God. Christian forgiveness is a gift that commands practice. So it is a task that should be a way of life. Forgiveness frees us from bitterness and replaces bitterness with joy. Forgiving someone brings joy. Christians are commanded, called and enabled to enjoy forgiveness and live daily with its benefits.
Jesus taught that forgiveness is a duty of the forgiven. No limit can be set on the extent of forgiveness and it must be granted without reserve. Jesus said, “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them” (Lk. 17:3-4). It’s hard isn’t it? But it’s more than this.
In another passage “Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times’” (Mt. 18:21-22). Jesus increases it to 77 times a day! That’s a pattern of life.
And Paul wrote, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Col. 3:13). The standard that we are to forgive others is the forgiveness of the Lord to us. How many times does the Lord forgive us in one hour? That’s how many times we are to forgive our spouse, our brothers, our sisters, our friends, our neighbors, and those we fellowship with in church. Showing forgiveness is like bringing heaven down to earth.
The condition of forgiveness is repentance and confession on behalf of the offender. But Jesus says that if the offender fails to repent, the offended is not released from the task of forgiving. Jesus said, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart” (Mt. 18:35). Whether someone is repenting or not, we are obliged to forgive them. It’s very difficult.
Jesus said, “if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift” (Mt. 5:23-24). Forgiveness isn’t only when you have done something wrong. It’s also for when someone else has wronged you. That’s what we are commanded to do.
Michael Bird says, “this form of forgiveness does not mean that I do not continue to feel the hurt from someone’s sin. But I forfeit my right to show my hurt at someone’s painful actions”. It’s a choice that we make. At the cross Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk. 23:34). That’s love and mercy rather than resentment, anger and a desire for the punishment of His persecuters. Jesus was a model for His followers by willingly forgiving those who persecuted Him.
That’s what Mrs Gladys Staines did after her husband Graham and two sons were burnt to death in India in 1999. She made a choice to forgive them. It’s the choice of the strongest, not the weakest.
Forgiveness is a destiny
Forgiveness is the destiny for human life. The forgiven life that we have been given is going to continue. Believers are going to become like Jesus Christ. The purpose of God’s gift of forgiveness to fallen humans is to create a new being; “to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24). This is Christ-likeness. So forgiveness has implications for this life and the life to come. God’s work of salvation saves sinners from the guilt, penalty, power and the presence of sin to the presence of God. It starts here and takes us to eternity. It’s the same with forgiveness; the healing begins here and brings restoration and freedom and it takes us to eternity to be like Christ in perfection. Forgiveness is a gift given and a task practiced to bring an amazing outcome of wellbeing and wholeness to human existence. This is the ultimate destination of salvation and God’s gift of forgiveness.
The greatest problem in extending forgiveness today is an unforgiving spirit. This can show in many ways. And it can control us. It’s part of our fallen nature. Jesus said, “if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Mt. 6:14-15). Refusing to forgive doesn’t grant us power. Instead it enslaves us to further sin like bitterness, greed, and discouragement.
Mahatma Ghandi said, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong”. For example, God is all powerful and He is happy to forgive us.
And Frederic Luskin of Stanford University exclaims, the spirit of unforgiving is a spirit of timidity. He argues, why are we afraid to let go of our grievances when forgiving can bring healing and wellbeing? He says, unforgiveness is like being trapped in a jail cell of bitterness, serving time for what someone else committed. Forgiveness is something we do for ourselves as well. We are freeing ourselves of burdens by taking power over situations and managing them well to “become a hero rather than a victim”. Otherwise we will feel unnecessarily victimized. Forgiveness makes us heroes, while unforgiveness makes us victims.
The benefits of forgiveness
Many psychological studies have been done on the benefit of forgiveness of others. Luskin calls forgiveness a “trainable skill of the strong”, not the weak. Moreover, he claims that forgiveness “reduced anger, hurt, depression, and stress while increasing feelings of optimism, hope, compassion, physical vitality, self-sufficiency (power), and confidence”. Forgiveness also improves physical and mental health, reducing hypertension.
The IDEA Fitness Journal stated that “people who are forgiving tend to have not only less stress but also better relationships, fewer general health problems and lower incidences of the most serious illness, including depression, heart disease, stroke and cancer”. So forgiveness is an act of love and strength that leads to wellbeing.
Lisa Firestone concludes, “forgiveness is the final act of love” and “the greatest gift you can give yourself and someone else in psychology today”. Yes, forgiveness is the most beautiful form of divine-human love that reflects a person’s greatness, goodness, inner wellbeing, soundness, confidence, and wholeness.
So extending forgiveness has tremendous benefits to the self. There are benefits in the forgiven life. Forgiveness is worth it. This is where Christianity excels.
Forgiveness is a gift that God freely lavished on us when we were sinners. And forgiveness is a task that God commanded us to practice in our relationships with others. Forgiveness is an act of love and strength that leads to wellbeing. Finally, forgiveness is the believer’s destiny. God wants them to live well here and in eternity in Christ-likeness. They are being transformed every day into Christ-likeness.
If you have forgiveness, give it! If you don’t have it, you can’t give it! But you can seek the gift of forgiveness which is available through Jesus Christ.
However, if this post doesn’t work for you, you can follow the advice of Oscar Wilde, “Always forgive your enemies. Nothing annoys them so much”!
Acknowledgement: This blogpost was sourced from a presentation by Dr. Xavier Lakshmanan on this topic. Dr. Lakshmanan is Head of Theology in the Australian College of Christian Studies.
Posted, August 2019