You Can Ask Anything – Question #3
By Pastor Kenny Burchard email me
Question: How are we affected by unforgiveness? – Part 1
I will be doing 2-3 posts on this, because the answer will be too long for one post. I have done quite a bit of teaching on forgiveness at The Oasis Church. Some of the things I believe about forgiveness may be very difficult for some readers to agree with – and others may feel relieved by what I share.
Frankly, I don’t think that the average Christian has been helped by a lot of the forgiveness teaching available today. Most are encouraged to “forgive unconditionally” and to say “I forgive you” without really understanding what forgiveness means. Many become the victims of their offenders, and “mediators” AGAIN by being accused of “not forgiving” when offenses have not been properly handled, and the offended cotinues to feel unsafe and violated.
The concept of forgiveness is tough to deal with, but it must be faced. I hope these thoughts are helpful to you…
The basic dimensions of forgiveness…
The heart of the Christian message is forgiveness. Let’s try to conceptualize forgiveness in five dimensions:
1. Someone has been offended.
2. Someone is guilty of, or is perceived as causing the offense.
3. The relationship between the two parties has been damaged, or even severed by the offense.
4. The offender may attempt to restore the relationship through true repentance and restitution (restoring what has been broken – if that is possible).
5. The offended person may become open to restoration to the degree that he perceives repentance on the part of the offender, and to the degree that he is able to release his own need to judge the offender for their offense.
A heart-process, not a spoken phrase or single act…
Many people who have been offended feel a compulsion (especially if they are Christians) to utter the words, “I forgive you” immediately after an offense has been identified. The problem is that this may not actually be taking place in the heart – and may merely be a knee-jerk response.
Here’s what Jesus said about the connection between the words “I forgive you” and the state of the heart…
Mat. 18:5 – “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”
My personal belief is that we should not be quick to utter the words “I forgive you” until we are motivated with sincere, heart-level forgiveness. This “state of the heart” can take time to nurture.
Some offenses are so destructive, that the offended person must take time to work through multiple layers of difficulty related to how the offense has affected them.
I cut off Billy Joel’s right thumb…
Now, if Billy wants to be a “good Christian,” he can immediately say, “I forgive you” and make me feel better – and “do the Christian thing,” but there is going to be a problem later.
At some point, Billy is going to sit down at a piano to play one of his songs, and realize that he can’t really do it the way he used to. So – not only does Billy have to forgive me for cutting of a finger (the act itself), but he also discovers later that my offense had life-defining consequences for him that he did not realize at first.
NOW he has to forgive me for something else. There may be multiple occasions of this type of dynamic in my relationship with Billy.
Hey – YOU SAID YOU FORGAVE! You UNFORGIVER!
Unfortunately, Christians are not always good at helping people to PROCESS forgiveness, and will often CHASTISE a guy like Billy with words like, “Hey Jesus said forgive, and you said you forgave him, so stop bringing it up.”
This is horribly abusive, and only further confuses the person who has been offended. Most of this, I believe, is due to teaching on “unconditional forgiveness” – which (SHOCK) I don’t believe the Bible teaches!!!!!
Not even God offers unconditional forgiveness. He does LOVE unconditionally, but the Bible teaches that “without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sins” (Heb. 9:22). Jesus also requires repentance before God’s love can be relationally accessed, and forgivenes can become a dynamic part of our relationship with God (Luke 13:3, 5).
On the level of human relationships, Jesus taught his disciples to look for repentance BEFORE offering forgiveness to an offender.
Luke 17:3-4 – “Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.”
So – forgiveness is not as simple as being offended, then mouthing the words “I forgive you” out of a Christian compulsion to do so. According to the teaching of Jesus, forgiveness is always transactional. The offender has a responsibility – REPENTANCE. The offended has a responsibility – FORGIVE. But forgiveness must be “from the heart” and it should be given carefully, and with consideration of the repentance of the offender.
Houston, we have a problem…
But what if the person who offended me is dead? What if it is someone I used to know, but I have no way to contact them? What if I’ll never see them again? What if they are now mad at me for “not forgiving them” and want nothing to do with me. What if they have NEVER really repented for the things they did to me? Do I still have to forgive?
The short answer is… YES! but in some senses, no… But I need to explain what I mean by this, so tune in for the next blog post on forgiveness.
I know I’ve made some of you uncomfortable, but remember – God’s forgiveness of us cost the son of God his life. It should never be processed cheaply or sloppily. It is never unconditonal, and it is never just a single act. It is a process that must take place “from the heart.” If we really want to forgive, and help others to forgive, then we need to do it carefully and biblically.
Forgiven by Jesus…