So what does forgiveness mean you are committing to do with your hurt, fears, other emotions and imagination? The last post covered the interpersonal commitments of forgiveness and explains how forgiveness was designed to restore relationships after moral offenses. But what about the personal well-being and peace of mind of the forgiver, doesn’t forgiveness have benefits for the forgiver as well?
Yes, it does. No, it’s not necessarily selfish to ask. However, if we demand the benefits of forgiveness before we take the risk of forgiveness, we become trapped at the crucial point. In effect, we would be demanding to see the fireworks before we light the fuse. All of that to say, if you want this section to “convince you” to forgive, you will most likely be disappointed. But if you want to understand how forgiveness positively impacts your emotions (even in difficult cases), then you should find encouragement in this section.
In the section below we will trace the seven phase journey of forgiveness that is traveled by the one forgiving.
1. The context of forgiveness is always hurt. Forgiveness never begins as a pleasant experience. The emotions of pre-forgiveness are always raw. We never think this is a “good time” for us to need to forgive. The person we need to forgive is always the person who just sinned against us. We should never minimize the painful context in which forgiveness is granted.
2. Hurt is an experience that does not remove itself. Time does not heal moral offenses. If time heals an offense, then it was likely not one that merited forgiveness. We begin to feel trapped in the emotional bind; either we will forgive (which is “not fair”) or we will continually carry the weight of bitterness and mistrust. It feels like life is taking the side of our offender.
“Bad things tend to happen when you give offenses time to marinate in your heart (p. 158).” Paul Tripp in What Did You Expect?
3. Justice does not erase history (or emotion). Neither consequences nor punishment provide the relief that we hope they would. Our offender loses the benefit of his/her offense and may learn valuable lessons, but these do not provide restitution to us. Even if we are rightfully given something as compensation for the offense, its value either seems to trifle the offense or come across as penance. Justice doesn’t satisfy.
4. Repentance does not erase history (some emotion). Repentance is much better than justice at resolving the emotional pain of an offense. It now feels like apples are being traded for apples; prideful, self-centered response of sin for humbled, other-minded response of confession. But there is no sense of guarantee or control that would provide assurance that future pain could be avoided, so some emotional turmoil remains.
5. Forgiveness means something must die. We begin to realize exactly how devastating sin really is. Nothing short of death will stop it. Without being overly dramatic, we clearly see that something will die—love, trust, hope, a dream, dignity, respect… or Christ in their/our place. The only way to escape this maze of moral offense without losing someone or something we love is with a substitute.
6. We chose who/what to send to the cross. We begin to realize that the words “I forgive you” can be translated, “I apply Christ to your account. His death satisfies what your offense deserves in a way nothing else can… even my anger or revenge. I see in our relationship a picture of my attempt to be reconciled to God. My actions created a hopeless situation until Christ took my place so in our relationship I will allow him to take your place.”
7. We are reminded of peace greater than our pain. In this memory, we find that forgiveness is not an action or a choice, but a dramatization or re-enactment of the Gospel. As we experience the Gospel in the emotional freshness (bad and good) of this experience, we are reminded of our journey from death to life (Eph. 2:1-10). We get another taste of hopelessness turned to victory and we remember (because life had distracted us) that our ultimate security and emotional safety is in Christ, not circumstances. This fresh realization places the offense back in its appropriate perspective; without minimizing the offense, it is swallowed up in the greatness of the Gospel.
At this point, it should become clear that forgiveness does not add to anything that wisdom would not already advise if such an offer of grace from God were real. Our hesitancy to forgive (when we rightly understand what forgiveness means) is not a resistance to dangerous folly, but a doubt in or minimizing of God’s abundant grace to us.
Bitterness is a form of meditation, but on hurt instead of the Gospel. When we allow the hurts of our spouse to walk us through the journey of processing the emotions associated with forgiveness, then “the meditations of our hearts” (Psalm 19:14) center on the Gospel and point us to hope instead of doubt or dissatisfaction.