Forgiveness and reconciliation
What it is
How is forgiveness expressed in your language?
mechila (Hebrew) – to dig deep
aphiemi (Greek) – to lay aside
kshama (Sanskrit) – forebearance
ghufraan (Arabic) – release from guilt
ganapiya nega (Burrara, NT) – call it finished
The quote above gives a number of insights into what forgiveness is. Forgiveness is digging deep in order to root out resentment and the desire to hurt another who has hurt us. It is not easy! Forgiveness is laying that resentment and revenge aside even if we want to treasure it and make it grow. Forgiveness means being strong, forebearing, and controlling the animal instinct in each of us to lash out. Forgiveness means releasing another from guilt, and being released ourselves. Forgiveness means letting go of something, “calling it finished”, catching ourselves when we want to rehearse a grievance again and again. Forgiveness means desiring reconciliation and peace even when we don’t like the person we’re forgiving.
Reconciliation happens when the injured person is willing to forgive, and the person who has injured them is willing to admit their wrong. Reconciliation has to be 2-way, and only then is there peace.
What it isn’t
Forgiveness does not mean finding excuses or pretending something wasn’t as bad as it was. Forgiveness is not weak and does not mean “caving in” and letting someone “get away with it.” Forgiveness does not downplay the seriousness of the hurt or grievance in the slightest. If it was bad, it was bad. If it was deliberately done, no excuse makes it OK to have chosen to do it. Forgiveness stops being forgiveness if you pretend there was nothing to forgive!
What makes this a Christian value?
Forgiveness is hard. It goes against most of our natural instincts to be able to say, “Yes, this was bad, this was deliberate, this hurt – but I still want the best for that person.” The natural thing to do when someone hurts us is to hurt them back. We may learn to “let go” for our own mental health, but Christian forgiveness asks us to go one step further and “let go” for the sake of the other as well – for the sake of the one who caused us pain. We have as our model, inspiration and strength, Jesus, who after being tortured and crucified cried out, “Father forgive them!”
We forgive because Jesus forgives us, however often we come to Him, however often we mess up. In response, we are told that we are to forgive people not just 7 times, but “seventy times seven” if necessary. That’s a lot of times. Perhaps forgiveness, most of all the values, is the one which shows us how much we need God’s strength and Spirit at work in us if we are to fulfil it. But perhaps forgiveness – and its outcomes of reconciliation and peace – is also the thing our world needs most.