By Laura L. Hamman, MABC, ThM, LPC-S
Forgiveness is a gift from God that can only be “re-gifted” after it has been accepted and embraced. Imagine the most beautifully wrapped package you have ever seen. It is a gift box where you can remove the top and reach inside to accept the gift of forgiveness from God, through Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit. This forgiveness from God releases us from the pain and bitterness of our past. Our chains of bondage are broken by this gift, but the only way to break all the chains, is to “re-gift” this forgiveness to everyone who has hurt us. The process of “re-gifting” forgiveness is between God and me. The process of sharing forgiveness with the person who hurt us, including them in our lives, is reconciliation. This can only happen when we feel safe, and the other person has sought forgiveness and reconciliation.
In following the Scriptures, we are called to forgive others in the process of loving them. Jesus called for his disciples to forgive their enemies, who are also called their neighbors. This forgiveness came deeply rooted in the pure motive of love toward other people, our neighbors. Forgiving from the true motive of sacrificial love is difficult, and rarely seen. The concept of forgiving those who hurt us, from a motive of sacrificial love, goes against a sense of justice as seen in a humanistic-centered world. In other words, if it is all about me then there is not a lot of room for anyone else. Jesus calls us to love God with all of us, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. He does not expect us to do this on our own without His help and guidance. The writer of Hebrews 2:16-18 expounds on the help that Jesus will provide to those seek it. Viewed in this way, Jesus acts as our helper to aid us when we are tempted not to forgive. Returning to the book of Hebrews, the author encourages us by reminding us that we will find the grace to help us in those times of need (Heb 4:16). A strong need for grace pervades the act of forgiveness, especially if we are to be able to forgive those who hurt us. God’s grace is sufficient. Jesus said that nothing is impossible with God (Matt 19:26; Mark 10:27; Luke 1:37, 18:27).
God works through and in people to work His divine will. We are called to be holy (1 Peter 1:15) in our thoughts and behavior and to be continuously transformed into the image of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 3:18). God has shown us that we are to work to change ourselves (Phil 2:12-13) and help others (1 Thess 5:14), so that we may be better able to forgive one another, forgive our enemies, and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.
However, forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. Reconciliation, resuming a relationship with those who hurt us, can be impossible or dangerous in some situations. Reconciliation can only occur when both sides come to the table, and it is safe for everyone involved.