The Action of Forgiveness
Forgiveness is a process, a series of events, and a set of behaviors. It requires action on our part. True biblical forgiveness is always initiated and moves first. In Luke 15, the parable of the prodigal son clearly demonstrates this truth through the actions of the father. In Luke 15:20, when the father catches sight of the prodigal son on the horizon, he begins to run toward him. He literally RUNS in the direction of forgiveness.
The father did not wait for the son to grovel or apologize. He did not tap his foot while demanding to hear the son’s outlined plan (vv. 18-20) in order to be accepted once again. The father ran to extend forgiveness. Forgiveness has everything to do with our action, not the offender. We are not instructed to stand back and wait for them to approach us.
We also learn from the story of the prodigal son that forgiveness may be misunderstood and unappreciated by others. When the father forgave and welcomed back the younger son with open arms, Luke 15:28-30 records the older son's response:
The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!
Can you identify with the older brother's feelings? Extending forgiveness may provoke anger and hostility in others generated from their own struggles with unforgiveness. But worrying about how others will perceive our forgiveness only delays taking that first step. Keeping our eyes on God and following His guidance allows us to live a renewed, restored life.
In Mark 11:25, God tell us this about active forgiveness: And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.
Forgiving someone that has hurt us requires taking action to reach out to them. We find that initial step difficult because we may fear exposure to unkind words, rejection, and further hurt. But we are still called to extend forgiveness, regardless of how the recipient of our forgiveness responds. Whether or not they accept forgiveness resides with them. You and I are called to extend genuine forgiveness; not ensure those who hurt us accept it. That decision resides with them alone.
Unforgiveness and hardened hearts prevent God’s healing to penetrate. When the wound is deep, we remember the hurt often. Initially, we may have to forgive 100 times a day - and sometimes through gritted teeth. But each time we remember, we are to forgive. Over time, God’s salve of love heals our hearts and repairs our brokenness and we find that we no longer pray for them through gritted teeth.
Tomorrow, we'll wrap up our series on forgiveness. I pray that God has stirred in you a fresh insight into biblical forgiveness. The best is yet to come.