Originally published April 2012
- Forgiveness is a term used to describe money transactions, something that can help us better understand the concept. To forgive a debt means to relinquish the right to collect what is owed to you. One can treat offenses or wrongdoing in the same way that they handle financial debt, releasing the person who has wronged them from owing them a moral debt or duty to make right the wrong that they suffered.
- Discretion. Matthew 18:15 specifies that when a person has suffered a wrong, they should go to the person who wronged them directly and privately. This not only averts bad attitudes, the development of bitterness by the wronged party, and people exploiting or mistreating one another, it also makes a statement against gossip by teaching assertiveness. Ideally, one should not discuss a wrong done to them with other people until after they confront the one who wronged them.
- Triangulation results when a person takes a matter that involves them and only one other person and invites another party in on the conflict, and it violates the principle of keeping matters between two parties private until they've had an opportunity to discuss that conflict. Triangulation is an enemy of effective communication, and it makes conflict incredibly complicated and more difficult to resolve. (Matthew 18:15 advises against triangulation.)
- What constitutes an apology? From a previous post, Apologies that Aren't:The word originates from the Greek (and the Latin) word “apologia” which literally means a "plea" or “a speech in one’s own defense.” This straight definition more closely resembles the meaning of the word “apologetics” which we use to describe giving an account of one’s faith and the hope within us, with both meekness and patience. It also corresponds with the third possible definition that the Oxford Dictionary lists: “a justification or defense.” But in terms of asking for forgiveness (the process of repentance for causing an offense), what the Oxford describes as “a regretful acknowledgment of regret or failure” and how we most commonly use the word, using a defensive approach usually proves to be a poor one.
In terms of asking for forgiveness, using just the Oxford dictionary’s first description alone, an apology includes a few components – something that gives it meaning and substance: Failure, acknowledgment, and regret. [Continue reading HERE.]
- In an ideal situation of forgiveness, an offended person would communicate with the one who has wronged them, and the party who was responsible for the offense would express contrition (offering an apology) after taking responsibility for failing the other party. Accompanying the words of repentance and contrition would be some effort to make right the wrong that was done through some kind of restitution when it is possible.
- We are always required to forgive, making ourselves vulnerable to repeated offense, if the offending party asks for forgiveness. It's better to avoid becoming offended, but some offenses are unavoidable. An upcoming post will discuss how a person can release an offense when the offending party does not change their behavior or refuses to acknowledge the wrong they've done. A “one sided forgiveness” is possible.
- Forgiveness differs from condoning or ignoring bad behavior which Matthew 18 speaks about as a sober matter among Christians, and the consequences for both offenses and unforgiveness are serious matters.
- Reconciliation is also a financial term that refers to the reckoning made between two parties wherein they wipe all history of the debt away. In terms of relationships, the parties who previously experienced conflict agree to put the past behind them, as if there were no cause for past debt. Neither party returns to the past offenses, and they continue in unencumbered safety, trust, and freedom within their relationship, based on their commitment to one another through their reconciliation.
- Forgiveness Precedes Reconciliation. An ideal situation wherein forgiveness involving the participation of both parties takes place with a positive outcome paves the way for reconciliation. Forgiveness creates the environment wherein reconciliation can grow and be realized.
- Forgiveness is mandatory. Reconciliation is ideal, but in the wisdom and spirit of preserving what is just, it may not be possible if the offending party does not repent of wrongdoing. Joseph may be considered an example of this kind of wisdom when he tested the integrity and intent of his brothers before he revealed his identity and reconciled with them (Genesis 39-46). The argument can be made that if unqualified reconciliation was demanded of him, God would have required Joseph to immediately reveal his identity to his brothers, offering them anything that they wanted before he had examined their motives and behavior toward him.
- Repentance in the New Testament derives from the root word of metanoia which literally means to “change [one's] mind” From the Blue Letter Bible's Lexicon:"Repentance (metanoia, 'change of mind') involves a turning with contrition from sin to God; the repentant sinner is in the proper condition to accept the divine forgiveness." (F. F. Bruce. The Acts of the Apostles [Greek Text Commentary], London: Tyndale, 1952, p. 97.)
- Ideal forgiveness requires repentance. Scriptures such as Luke 17:1-4 that parallel Matthew 18 concerning forgiveness add an additional qualification of repentance that seems to be required from the offending party:He said to His disciples, “It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to him through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble. Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”
- God's forgiveness of us is contingent upon our forgiveness of others. Because God offers us forgiveness of moral debt that we can never pay, we are called to forgive others in response. If we hold on to moral (or financial) debts that others owe us, this is also a serious matter. God will hold us to the same standard against which we measure others. If we withhold forgiveness from others, God will ultimately withhold His own forgiveness from us (Matt 6:14-15).
Human relationships are messy business. In ideal situations, offenses would not occur. Likewise, because we don't live in an ideal world, the process of forgiveness can be a difficult journey when we don't agree with those around us, whether people don't agree that wrongdoing occurred, or whether they refuse to take responsibility for behavior. Depending on the degree of an offense, forgiveness becomes a more difficult process that takes place over time, especially if we have suffered great harm. This is complicated, considering that we are required to forgive to be forgiven ourselves.
The next posts will discuss the process of forgiveness when the other party does not repent and the potential problems that arise from offering unqualified forgiveness (confusing a mandatory reconciliation with forgiveness). Spiritual abusers often pit forgiveness against justice, requiring followers to ignore wrongdoing in order to maintain the illusion of harmony within a group.