By Andea Thom
Forgiveness is powerful. It provokes memories of injustice that can drench a face with tears. To another it speaks of freedom and replaces anxiety with joy. Forgiveness is something that we all have in common because every deep relationship at some point requires it. Are there times when theology is too lofty to be practical? What is biblical forgiveness? Why is it so important? What does it look like up-close?
Forbearance is often confused with forgiveness, and in short means to “put up with.” Forbearing refuses to let minor offences become major, even when our feelings insist otherwise (Matthew 5:23–24; Proverbs 28:13; Proverbs 19:11; 12:16; 17:14;
Colossians 3:13; 1 Peter 4:8). Irritating habits. The joke at our expense. The bothersome personality that grates our nerves. Forbearance “lets things go” instead of cycling in malcontent. It decides that further discussion makes matters worse. It refuses gossip, giving the cold shoulder, holding a grudge.
Biblical forgiveness applies to major wrongdoings that require discussion to achieve reconciliation. We lay down our perceived right to make our offender pay, leaving God to adjudicate. We experience emotional peace because we’re no longer enslaved by our hostility. Yet biblical forgiveness extends beyond content feelings to restored relationships. Jesus didn’t just die so that I could feel good about Him, and He could feel good about me. Forgive- ness was applied so that relational intimacy could be restored. Forgive- ness is the key that unlocks the closed door of sin that stands in the way of two people belonging to one another. It replaces separation with peace and puts God’s reconciliatory power on display in everyday life.
“Father, forgive them” echoed from the cross (Luke 23:34), and the closed veil tore (Matthew 27:51) signalling access to restored relationship upon repentance. Now, forgiveness becomes an opportunity to reenact the gospel and display God’s character. (Matthew 5:23–24; Proverbs 28:13) It absorbs unfairness because He did, and says that because Jesus suffered for me, my life can suffer for Him (Philippians 2:5–11). We don’t forgive because we are loving and forgiving people, we forgive because we’ve been loved and forgiven (Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13). We now become ambassadors of reconciliation on His behalf (2 Corinthians 5:18–20). Forgiveness isn’t me-focused, it’s us-focused because it’s Christ-focused.
What forgiveness is not
Forgiveness does not mean excusing egregious acts, nor insist that reconciliation be immediate. It does not remove any legal consequences, nor say that setting boundaries in toxic relationships are unnecessary. It means that “if possible, so far as it depends on you, we live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18). It requires that we give repentant people an opportunity to regain our trust (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3; 13:3; 17:3–4; 24:47; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 5:31; 8:22; 1 John 1:9). It casts a vision to be peacemakers as evidence that God is working among us – making peace where it seems impossible. Resources like Unpacking Forgiveness (Chris Brauns), The Peacemaker (Ken Sande) and in-person biblical counsel can illuminate the Word and show us how forgiveness applies to our unique pain with greater depth.
Reconciliation and peace
We all make choices about our involvement with peace every day. We can fight peace by becoming retaliatory and refuse the journey toward restoration. We can fake peace by denying the depth of our emotional distress and pretend that we are fine. Or we can allow the same Christ who made peace with us to make peace among us. Martin Lloyd- Jones said that, “Forgiving someone is the most God-like thing that we can do.”
More than ever believers need to shine unity and reconciliation into our divided culture proving that there’s hope for sinners and the sinned against – the shameful and betrayed. Forgiveness is essential evidence of Jesus working among us because in the midst of differences and pain, we witness family oneness and peace instead.
Andrea Thom is a wife, mom of three, a therapist (MSc), and author of two Bible studies: Ruth – Redeeming the Darkness and Amos – Come Awake! She is a recurrent Bible teacher and writer for a variety of international radio programs, conferences, and Christian websites such as The Gospel Coalition Canada and Indoubt (Back to the Bible). You can connect with her at andreathom.com.