Of the many character qualities we as Christians should cultivate, forgiveness may be one of the more difficult ones. Forgiveness is the act we perform toward another when we have been wronged. But when we are the victim of injustice it is difficult for us to let go of the desire for vengeance.
This desire is natural and one could say expected. The problem with our desire for vengeance, as it relates to forgiveness, is that it inhibits our ability to extend to others what God has extended to us. When we forget what we have received it becomes difficult to give that to someone else.
We in the church have oftentimes called people to forgive before they are ready to truly do so. This means the pain that was experienced because of what was suffered has not properly healed. It also means we have misunderstood a key aspect of what forgiveness is supposed to do.
The purpose of forgiveness is to release ourselves from the bondage of playing God in someone else’s life for what they did in ours. But it is difficult to see how this can be done and not feel as if the person whom we are forgiving is getting off scot-free.
A phrase that has often been used to describe forgiveness, and I believe incorrectly so, is the idea of “forgive and forget”. Now, I would like to say from the start that it is true God says that he casts our sins as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). The God who is infinite in knowledge is able to “forget” our sins. The problem with trying to apply that ability to those of us who are still living in and managing the effects of this sinful world are too many to describe here.
What I would like to do is to show that forgiveness according to Scripture is not trying to forget what has happened. Rather forgiveness is the releasing of our desire to be the judge against the person who has wronged us. Why do I make this distinction? I do so because throughout Scripture we are reminded that God is the judge of all the earth. That God is the one who will make every injustice right. What many of us are upset about is the fact that God is not operating our timeline. We feel the weight of the injustice and therefore desire an immediate response to it. But this is not biblical forgiveness.
Bishop Luis L. Scott, the pastor of Ambassadors of Christ Fellowship, provides a helpful summary of the doctrine of forgiveness as articulated in Scripture. Forgive and forget is only possible by God. But we can mirror to the best of our abilities the kind of forgiveness that a broken and fallen person can perform by working to apply the following phrase: “forgive and forgo”.
What this phrase reminds us of is that forgiveness is the foregoing of what we believe is a just repayment for the injustice we have suffered. By foregoing our need to see the penalty of injustice meted out in our presence we are entrusting to God what only he can do and still be just — and that is to be a just judge against sin.
As we continue our steady march toward Easter morning is important for us to recognize that the kind of forgiveness we have experienced in Christ should be shared with others. This is not always easy. But it’s always required of us to try. It may take longer or shorter than we may be prepared to do. But the goal is not to get to the point where we can forgive and forgo on someone else’s timetable. The goal is to be able to forgive and forgo in such a way that we embody the fullness of God’s grace and mercy as we have experienced it. That way when others experience forgiveness they might see how much greater and more perfect God’s forgiveness is toward us all.