Forgiveness is hard. When someone has wronged us or treated us unfairly, it becomes extremely difficult to forgive. We find any number of reasons not to forgive others. We make excuses of why someone does not deserve forgiveness, or we forgive but we hold those sins against them for an extended period of time. We think that to forgive means that the offense wasn’t important, or wasn’t harmful. But the pain runs deep because the hurt was real. To forgive another, especially when the hurt runs so deep is hard. It is even harder when the other person doesn’t ask for forgiveness. Forgiveness seems almost impossible when the other person won’t admit wrong. How can a wrong ever be made right when there is no recognition of guilt?
Yet as Christians we are called to forgive. Not just when forgiveness is asked for, but at all times. Jesus says that if we fail to forgive others, God will not forgive us. Christians are called to love their neighbors and pray for those who persecute them. This is a difficult task. It means that even our enemies are to be forgiven. It means that we can’t just pretend to forgive, we must actually forgive from the heart. But how is this done.
One truth we must always remember is that we have been called to a cruciform life. As Christians, we are called to take up our cross daily and follow our Lord, who humbly went to the cross for others. Part of this cruciform life is recognizing life is not all about me. While I may want to be selfish at times, Christianity calls me to place the needs of others above my own. In the cruciform life, forgiveness is not about what is best for me, but what is best for the reconciliation of all things to God. I may desire to hold a grudge, or decide I won’t talk to the other person anymore, but if I’m living a cruciform life that’s not a choice. I must forgive, because God has forgiven me.
Jesus is calling us to a deeper form of forgiveness. Jesus is calling us to the way of the cross. Jesus is calling us to humility, to take a position where we place the needs of others above our own. We have all been forgiven, and no matter how hard it is, we must seek to forgive others. This type of forgiveness has been demonstrated in many ways by individuals who choose to forgive the murders of their family members before or after trial. They still demand that justice is done and punishment is served, but they choose to forgive because they have been forgiven.
Forgiveness is not being light on sin. God hates sin. God hates sin so much that we are called to cut off our hands if it will keep us from sinning. Yet God chooses to forgive, and God pursues the lost one like a shepherd looking for sheep. This is not an easy path. It is taking up your cross and doing what needs to be done for the sake of the Kingdom.
Forgiveness is about the cruciform life. Only a life that is willing to die to self and live for God is able to extend this type of forgiveness. Only a life that recognizes the amount of grace that has been given, and out of thanksgiving is willing to commit to the same lifestyle, is able to forgive others who have wronged them. Forgiveness places others above self. It recognizes that you have been called into a way of life that models the life of Jesus; one who humbles himself for the benefit of others. You have been forgiven much so you respond in kind. Even when you have been wronged. Even when it is atrocious. Even when it continues to happen day after day. That doesn’t mean you place yourself in a position in which you are abused or that you put yourself in danger. Forgiveness and cruciformity are never about accepting abuse from others. Forgiveness also does not mean that others do not have consequences for their actions. Sin has consequences, and even forgiven sinners must suffer the consequences of the choices they have made. But, the way of Christ does mean you choose to forgive and seek a renewed relationship, because God has chosen to forgive you and seek renewed relationship with you. As Christ has done for us, we do for others.