I find it helpful to be clear on what forgiveness is and what it is not, lest I reject it in ignorance.
1. Forgiveness is not sending to myself or to the offender the message that “It’s okay…” Forgiveness does not magically transform the unacceptable into the acceptable. If they genuinely wounded me, it is not okay. Appropriate rebuking (previous blog) communicates that.
2. Forgiveness is Specific. It is not a blanket statement such as “I forgive you for all you did.” The specific offense is identified to the Lord and to the offender.
3. Forgiveness is A Conviction. The Spirit of God has helped me to understand a Biblical principal. I know it is something I need to do to obey God and move toward greater emotional and spiritual health.
4. Forgiveness is A Choice. When I forgive, I make a choice, a decision with my mind to obey God. It does not arise from my emotions. A decision to forgive is often made in spite of emotions.
5. Forgiveness is Cancellation of a Debt. When someone genuinely wounds me, they borrow or steal something from me, so to speak. There is a debt involved. In order to be free of the situation I choose to consider the debt cancelled. They do not owe me anything anymore.
6. Forgiveness does mean that I intend to trust God to deal with the offender. He has promised that He will do so.
7. Forgiveness is A Pledge. “I will not bring it up to him/her anymore.” “I will not bring it up to others anymore.” “I will not bring it up to myself anymore.” “We … take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).
8. Forgiveness is A Process. Time and thought are required for me to consider exactly what I am forgiving. I will become ready to begin the process. I will take some steps… do some business with God on the subject… confront the offender with an appropriate rebuke… extend forgiveness (only vertical or maybe horizontal also). Then I will again feel bitter toward the offender. At that point I can talk with God something like this: “Lord, I acknowledge that on the day of ____, I began the process of forgiving _____ (offender’s name). I choose to continue moving in that direction, relinquishing any claim I had, or thought I had, for repayment of any kind. He/She doesn’t owe me a thing!” No matter what I feel, I can choose to move ahead with what I know to be true about God and me, and what He wants me to do.
9. Forgiveness does not require that I have relationship with the offender in the future. Continued interaction may not be wise or healthy.
10. And – this may require some adjusted thinking: Forgiveness may involve A Cooperation. God may want my cooperation so He can use me in this person’s life. Bitterness robs me of the chance to be God’s tool in that life. My pain caused me to be very aware of this person. That awareness may be part of God’s bigger picture. When God’s grace empowers me to forgive, my life becomes an illustration to the offender of God’s love and forgiveness. Maybe the entire offense is part of God’s plan to awaken the offender to His love and forgiveness and bring him/her into His kingdom.