My Bible study group were talking about forgiveness today. Jesus commanded us to forgive others and reminds us of the huge amount that God has forgiven us (Matthew 18:21-35).
I have been thinking about forgiveness today. What is it exactly?
I don’t think that forgiveness is just a feeling. I don’t actually believe that God ever commands us to have particular feelings about things because feelings are unwieldy and elusive. God doesn’t want us to have a place in our heart for people, He wants us to do something with our hands.
So, what does forgiving look like?
It’s obvious what it looks like when we forgive our friends or our spouses. That means continuing to show the same affection and, if necessary, fixing the problem together rather than leaving them to ‘stew in their own juices’. Admittedly, there are times when it’s easier to see what forgiveness would look like than it is to forgive. But, at least there is little ambiguity there.
What does forgiveness look like when you forgive your children? It’s my job to teach my children the right way to behave. So I can’t just forget their actions and move on. Sometimes I try and help them make amends. But that isn’t always practical. When I set a consequence for bad behaviour, am I failing to forgive? Would that be such a bad thing? I suspect that my relationship with my children has more than enough consequences. Maybe a bit more grace and forgiveness would do us all good!
What about acquaintances, though? I am frequently irritated by people I barely know. What does it mean to forgive them? I certainly shouldn’t tell them ‘I forgive you’. That just sounds rude! I guess it’s the same as with loved ones in a way: continue to show the same affection.
Maybe forgiveness is just about carrying on, not letting other people’s actions deflect me from my attempts to love others (in an appropriate way). So forgiveness is just continuing to love in the face of irritation.
Love is also not a feeling, but a set of actions. Being patient and kind, not envying or boasting, not getting angry all the time, rejoicing with but not laughing at, not keeping track of other people’s faults. Which, of course brings us (via Galatians 5:22) back to forgiveness. Well, that pleases me.