Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Other Type of Forgiveness: Releasing the Debt While Looking to God for Justice

Someone offends you, you examine what has happened to you, and you take stock of your situation. You work through denial, anger, bargaining, depression and you finally accept that you've suffered loss. You've avoided premature forgiveness and didn't just use denial to make difficult problems just magically go away. You've also resisted seeing forgiveness as a work to be performed – something you must give in order to get benefit – a misunderstanding of forgiveness in the Lord's Prayer as some mere ritual that actually thwarts the process of true forgiveness by rushing through it.

 Out of love for God (or even just on principle), you decide that you want to walk the Path of Healing, so you commit yourself to pursue forgiveness as an act of obedience and worship unto God, even though it feels like the last thing you would rather do. You do it out of gratitude and love for God, even as a form of prayer. You confront the person who offended you, and sometimes, you've even enlisted others to go with you after an initial, private confrontation. And you didn't get anything that looks, sounds, or feels to you like forgiveness, let alone reconciliation. Whether you received feigned repentance, your offender doesn't agree with you about the nature of the wrong, or they just can't understand your offense because they're “irregular,” you find yourself in an uncomfortable place. You have to figure out how to heal without the benefit of the other person's repentance.

As suggested in recent posts, our process of forgiveness doesn't need to be contingent upon the actions of others, especially when we consider that Scripture requires us to venture on into true forgiveness, always working towards the possibility for reconciliation and restored relationship. With God, it becomes a function of community through love and patience as we offer to others the blessing He shared with us. If the party who offends us rejects our forgiveness for whatever reason, we are not held like like their hostages in a way that interferes with our relationship with God. Our intimacy with God can deepen whether the offending party participates in the process or not, and we can still cry out to God for justice.

Take the Challenge:
Release Your Offender to God

When offenders and abusers continue in their ways, we can make a decision. We can choose to continue in the victim role, or we can keep on moving forward with God so that we can move through and pass the offense. Forgiveness is always contingent upon us and our willingness to release the person who harmed us from the debt that they owe us. That can absolutely happen even if we still seek to find justice. We just don't seek anything from the person who offended us.

We seek justice from God. We tear up the Emotional IOU that the person we offended created which we clutch zealously on the Path of Bitterness, and we can look to God for the payment of that debt, trusting that He will reward us with kindness. We give up holding on to the anger and the resentment that we hold against that person, and we start to let God change us. This is much different from the Path of Denial that pretends that no wrong or harm ever befell us. It doesn't exonerate the offender. It hands them over to God to deal with them. We return evil with goodness by releasing them to the Source of all compassion righteousness. In so doing, we do good

In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul addresses the problem of sexual immorality within the Church at Corinth. He says something about the consequences of that sin that I find so instructive. The “puffed up” people engaging willfully in the sin show no interest in repenting, changing their mind and behavior, so Paul makes a rather bold statement:
In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. (vs 4-5, NASB)

The person who has offended you may not have not sinned against you in such a bold way, so I don't mean to suggest so bold a thing if it's not warranted. But I would like to offer here is the idea of abandoning that person to God, placing them and the matter in God's hands, trusting God to work out the details and the recompense. Vengeance belongs only to God, and we know that the wrath of man doesn't work righteousness (James 1:19-20).

 So let God do it. Deliver your offender over to God so that He might continue to work in them (Phil 2:12-13), hopefully bringing them to repentance in the future. Then look to God to pay back to you whatever you have lost as a result of the offense you suffered. Look to God's restorative power to heal your wounds, deriving from Him what you hoped to find through restoration with the person who offended you. Let Him deliver you instead of trying to deliver yourself. This lets you seek and establish justice without vengeance, but you forget only the debt while justice builds wisdom in your heart.

Self-Discipline on the Path of Healing

In the beginning, discipline yourself to pray for them, and it will be a challenge and a process that will continually test your heart. Pray that God will eventually save your offender through the process. Pray that in the end, that by surrendering the debts and the relationship over to God, that they will stand beside you as your brother, reconciled to you in the Day of the Lord. Hope in God for their good end, that even if you don't see repentance in them and reconciliation with them in this life that you will in the next one. Start small. Just give them to God at first, and tell Him of your struggle. Pour out your frustration and surrender the debt. With great offenses, this process repeats and repeats, and it becomes a process of renewal. Renew and affirm your desire to forgive and recommit to the Path of Healing. If you need to release that person to God seventy times seven times a day, then renew your spirit of forgiveness for them each time. Each time you do, you take another small step on the journey. Choose that single step of virtue when vice seems easier. As NT Wright explains, if you are faithful in each step, it prepares you for the greater moments, for each single step changes your heart. I know full well that these steps are not easy ones. They are a discipline of the heart which we make out of love for God.

Something amazing happens when you release your offender to God and you open your heart to let God fill you with the spirit of forgiveness and longsuffering. You will find that as you purge your soul of the pain and as God satisfies your heart and life with healing and good things, God will plant a tiny seed of compassion in you for that person. In time and through devotion to the obedience of forgiveness, walking faithfully and honestly down that Path of Healing, you will find compassion for the one who offended you as that seed begins to grow.

This is what God wants to birth in your heart, and it teaches us something about our own helpless state of sinfulness. It teaches us in just a small way what Jesus did for us by laying down His holy life for us. As sheep gone astray, turning to our own way, we have the opportunity to realize just how significant His sacrifice was for us (Isaiah 53). It draws us closer to Him. We can let the offense become a lesson for us in how much God loves us, forgiving us much through the depths of our own pain suffered through injustice. And we can then appreciate just how profound His healing is in our lives.

Somewhere in this journey, we start to look more like Jesus, as the devotion to forgiveness transforms us as we renew our minds and hearts to love. Our hearts transform over time, and we begin to feel God's love and compassion for them, even though we still consider what they did to us to be unjust. We can still cry for justice and seek it, but without the baggage of expectation. This process, perhaps more than any other, conforms us into the image of Jesus. This is what Joseph experienced in the fullness of time with his brothers (Genesis 50:20), when God takes what was meant for evil and transforms it. Paul tells us of this promise in Romans 8:29-30. All things work together for good and they become a blessing of life and salvation. Forgiveness always looks forward and seeks to restore a sense of community. We just have to keep taking those single steps.

Monica Holland's thoughts on the healing of Forgiveness Without Repentance:
Today, I am steadfast on the path of healing because I no longer look to my offender(s) to fix what they broke or to bind up the wounds that they inflicted. I look to Jehovah Rapha, the Lord my healer. While I must and do forgive my offender(s), it is my offender(s) who must repent to God and to me if restoration is ever to take place. When and only when they repent and ask for forgiveness then and only then is restoration possible. Albeit, whether they ask for forgiveness or not, I must release them and look to the Lord to heal me and restore emotional and spiritual health to me. “For I will restore health unto you, and I will heal you of your wounds, says the LORD…” Jeremiah 30:17.
Read the rest of Monica Holland's post HERE.

More on on the web about what some call “One-sided forgiveness” or “vertical forgiveness”:

(Articles and authors listed here do not imply and should not suggest a blanket acceptance of all doctrines or recommended practices taught by these individuals or ministries. They offer thought provoking ideas about how to forgive when the offending party has not repented or demonstrated contrition for their wrongdoing.)

An upcoming post will discuss
how to negotiate relationships where
forgiveness is one-sided and the other party
continues to offend.