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11 Aug '11

The High Cost of Forgiveness

Posted by T.J. Addington in forgiveness, relationships, spiritual formation, The heart
Forgiving those who have offended us is an imperative that one simply cannot escape in the Gospels or the Epistles. So radical was the notion to many that they actually asked Jesus, "well how many times do we need to forgive?" and Jesus replied 70 times 7, which was His way of saying, "There is no limit!" Our example is Christ Himself...which does not leave any wiggle room as Christ has forgiven us all of our sin which in the end were offenses against Him and His holiness and continues to do so every day. So the parable of the unforgiving servant!


Having been married 35 years I have had many occasions to be forgiven by a loving spouse and to forgive. Hard as it is sometimes with those we love, we have a vested interest in both forgiving and being forgiven because we value the relationship as there is no joy in unforgiving relationships. So too with our family members and close friends.


It is also easier to forgive when we are asked to forgive - after all the one asking is acknowledging their wrong. It may not make it easy - depending on the offense and its consequences on our lives but the acknowledgement of being wronged certainly helps. 


The highest cost of forgiveness comes when we have been grievously wronged and there is no acknowledgement of the wrong. Accusations that are not true that go to our reputation, treatment that affects our livelihood and families, pain inflicted whose consequences will be with us for a lifetime in one way or another. Wrongs that even if acknowledged, cannot be taken back and impact us for years. Most of us have experienced situations like this. The question is whether we have paid the high cost of forgiving even when the cost is very, very high. Even when those we choose to forgive do not deserve our forgiveness.


Why pay the cost? First because we are told to by Christ who paid the cost for us. It is a Jesus thing to do and we are Jesus people. The world holds on to its offenses but we choose to forgive as He forgave us.


Second, there is freedom in forgiveness while there is bondage, anger and diminished joy in unforgiveness. As I write in When Life Comes Undone, "The only way out of the bitterness, the hold that the pain has on our lives, and the anger we feel toward those who hurt us is to choose to forgive them. Not for their sake but for our own sake. I don’t pretend it is easy, nor is it quick. But once we have made the decision and practice forgiveness, as the memories come back the hold of that pain lessens,and we are no longer hostage to those who hurt us."

I have often wondered why Jesus said we should forgive 70 times 7 times. Today I think I know. Because forgiveness is a process - especially for those egregious offenses that change the course of our lives and cause the deepest pain. I have been there and it took me years of repeated choices to forgive to get me to a place of freedom. In giving that number, Jesus is acknowledging how hard it is to forgive in certain cases. He is also acknowledging that it is often a process where we must choose forgiveness over and over and over. We don't do it for the sake of those who hurt us as much as we do it for our sake and to reclaim a life of wholeness. Forgiveness is an offensive move toward health when we have been wronged and when the evil one would have us choose a diminished life rather than life in all of its fulness.

There is legitimate and real pain in choosing to forgive egregious offenses. Every time we make the choice we relive the pain of the offense. Forgiveness does not mean that we "forget" (we won't), or that we stuff our plain (we shouldn't). At every juncture of forgiving again we acknowledge the pain and then make the choice to forgive. This is not pain avoidance but the opposite: it is allowing Jesus to help us work through the pain as we continually choose to forgive in spite of the pain.


We also choose to forgive because we know that God can take even the most painful situation and redeem it for His purposes if we choose faith over despair and freedom over bondage. Ironically, my greatest ministry has come out of my deepest pain. I could not conceive that in the dark night of the soul but today I see how God turned my human scars into divine scars and that my ministry has been deeply enriched by the very thing I thought had destroyed it.


There is no trait more like Jesus than that of forgiving the undeserving because that is what Jesus did for us (Matthew 18:21-35).