aphiemi is our f-word. It means to send away, dismiss, set free. It means to forgive.
So much has been said about forgiveness so I won’t go on and on. Probably. Maybe. We’ll see.
Here is what I have seen, what I am seeing, and what I myself have done: searched the scriptures for a way out of forgiving someone, rather than for a way into it. Usually, our way out lies in a lack of repentance, or change, on the part of the person we need to forgive. Most often the door out of forgiving is found in Luke 17:3-4.
“If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and comes back to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”
Ergo, if they don’t repent, we don’t have to forgive them. Two other places used as a way out of forgiveness are Colossians 3:13: “Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive.” and Ephesians 3:32 – “And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ.”
God’s forgiveness comes at our repentance, so we use repentance, or change, as our measuring stick of whether or not we have to forgive someone. So let’s just talk about that.
What if, in Luke 17, the point Jesus was making was not repentance, but forgiveness? What if He was addressing the heart of the forgiver, not the forgiven? What if He was saying “I don’t care how many times he does the same thing to you and keeps coming back and saying “sorry”…you cannot withhold forgiveness.”
I mean, what if someone coming back over and over again and repenting for the same sin isn’t really the definition of repentance, and therefore, repentance is not the criteria for forgiving someone seventy times seven?
So let’s throw Colossians and Ephesians up and see what sticks.
“Just as”. That’s what usually sticks. And so then we say God forgave us when we repented, so just as He did, we are to do. Ok, fair enough. Let’s talk about that.
What if we have no ability to offer anyone salvation and therefore, our forgiveness cannot be based on repentance? What if by “just as”, He was referring to any number of other things besides “when they repent”?
Like, completely. Fully. Unmerited. Forgiveness given when it is not even close to being deserved. Because that is how God has forgiven us in Christ, and it should make us out of our minds grateful. Not searching for a way not to give that same thing to others.
What if God was saying to us, “I so desired to forgive you that I sent my Son to die to make it happen”. What if forgiving as God forgave means looking for a way to forgive, rather than for a way not to forgive?
Well, what about repentance? What about it? First of all, those of us who are looking for a reason not to forgive, aren’t really looking for repentance. We want change. We are demanding to see the fruit of repentance before we forgive. Which is not the way that God has forgiven us. Not if we believe the gospel. What we really have to ask ourselves is not “did they repent”, but “what do we do with these scriptures”:
But if you don’t forgive people, your Father will not forgive your wrongdoing. – Matthew 6:15
And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven will also forgive you your wrongdoing. – Mark 11:25
Shouldn’t those statements have us scrambling to find a way to forgive the people who have hurt us, rather than trying to find justification not to forgive them?
I know what it feels like to have to forgive someone who has done you great harm, and not owned up to it. I know how hard that is and how gut-wrenching the work of forgiveness can be. I know that it feels like forgiveness is the same as saying they didn’t do what they did, or that what they did doesn’t matter. It feels like they are getting away with something. It feels unjust.
This has become one of the deepest truths I know: forgiveness is a choice, not a feeling. If you are waiting to feel forgiving, stop it. We have to stop trying to figure out what forgiveness feels like, and see what it looks like. Below is an excerpt from my book on the restoration of my marriage (the book is still in process):
It looks like never mentioning any of it ever again. No matter how mad I am. No matter how hurt I am. No matter how much I want to get back at him. I choose to let forgiven things remain forgiven.
It looks like not allowing my thoughts to turn over the rocks of the past, digging up the dirt of things buried in my forgiveness. In other words, I don’t think about the things I’ve forgiven. I just don’t. If those thoughts come in, I send them right back out. I choose to think of something else. I choose to start speaking Scripture about what is true about my husband. I choose to keep forgiving.
It looks like allowing my scars to be evidence of God’s healing instead of evidence of my wounding. Those scars didn’t all come from my husband. I had to forgive the person who molested me, the ex-husband who abused me, and [many others who have hurt me deeply throughout my life].
Forgiveness in my story looks like refusing to protect my own heart from pain. It’s staying vulnerable. It looks like trusting God.
It looks like remembering how very much I have been forgiven. It’s recognizing that what was done and what was said during those years were from a place of brokenness, and broken people do broken things and we are all broken at some point. You. Me. All of us have hurt people we love. Then we pull out our scales of justice and measure how much pain we’ve inflicted against how much pain we’ve been dealt and somehow, the scale always tips in our favor. I choose to throw away the scales of what justice looks like to me, because it is mercy and forgiveness I’ve been given by God, not justice.
If you are struggling with the f-word, then do what you know to do. Repent. Turn around. Go the other way. Look for a way into forgiveness instead of a way out of it.
I promised not to go on and on. Promise broken. Forgive me.