The Measure Of One’s Forgiveness

People are hurt and offended all of the time. Not a day goes by that someone isn’t being put down, insulted, ridiculed, harassed, abused, or endangered by violence.

All of this is sad enough, but what’s even sadder is that the depths of one’s hurt are limitless. No one can rightly gauge how deep another person’s pain can go. It is not right to judge and say that what has hurt one person at a certain level should only hurt another person at the same level. It’s equally not right to assume a posture that states, “I had it worse than you and I’m fine, so get over it”.

Each person’s own experiences with hurt are just that: their own. What may be water under the bridge for one is catastrophic to another.

But what about forgiveness? Forgiveness is the central tenet of the Christian faith, of the Holy Scriptures in general, and of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in particular. Forgiveness is the only means whereby anyone can be saved. If Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection didn’t offer forgiveness, it wouldn’t amount to much of anything.

The question then becomes, what if, as a believer in Christ, I am hurt, wounded, offended, abused, and/or etc.? How do I find forgiveness? How is it possible?

Let’s be honest for a moment. To just casually say “You just need to forgive and move on” doesn’t take into account the reality of the hurt someone has experienced. While the axiom may be true, there isn’t a shred of practicality to it. The “what” may be all good, but the “how” can seem impossible. We might offer the old adage “It just takes time”. But that isn’t necessarily true, either. Forgiveness can happen instantaneously, under the right conditions. After all, didn’t God affect your forgiveness in a moment?

The key then, to getting to that place of forgiveness is two-fold: first is to understand what forgiveness really is/means, Biblically speaking. The second is to have some rubric for measuring whether or not forgiveness has occurred in your heart. So let’s begin:

Forgiveness:

Anyone can grab a dictionary and come away with a sound definition of the English word forgiveness. But that isn’t sufficient. We aren’t trying to use a dictionary of the English language to define Biblical concepts. We need to define forgiveness from God’s point of view (here’s a hint: it’s not what most people think).

Forgiveness is more than just an emotionally cathartic moment where hurt, offense, and grudges are dropped (although that is part of it). Forgiveness, Biblically speaking, is more in line with debt relief.

Sin and the consequences of sin are routinely compared to a weight (e.g. Psalm 38:4 and Hebrews 12:1). This weight, or burden, carried by the sinner, is the mounting debt one incurs against God’s holiness. Each transgression and offense adds to the weight of the burden, i.e. to the amount one owes God in restitution.

Of course, the debt for each and every sinner is so grand and beyond repaying (since God is an infinitely holy God, the offense to His holiness is likewise infinitesimal), that no amount of good works or meritorious acts can remove the weight and burden of sin and its consequences.

God, and God alone, through the cross of Jesus Christ, can take the weight from off of a person’s soul, to set them free. When God forgives us, He isn’t the one experiencing an emotionally cathartic moment. We are! Being forgiven, and not forgiving, is the real release we need.

This is why Jesus instructed us to forgive others in order that we may be forgiven (Matthew 6:12, Mark 11:25, Luke 6:37).

When a person is carrying around a load of pain, shame, regret, offense, and bitterness, it’s not enough to simply tell them to forgive. Tell them they need to be forgiven. That is when the true load, i.e. the weight and burden of sin, falls away.

In God’s economy, forgiveness is a legal transaction, not merely an emotional one. The forgiveness of sins is imparted to a believer as the guilt, weight, and penalty of sins is (or really, was) imparted to Jesus Christ at Calvary, so that, taking our place (2 Corinthians 5:21), He could stand condemned, in order that we might be released. [1]

Therefore, when God forgives us, here and now, in 2015 (or whenever) it’s because He imputes the weight of our sins backwards in time and place to the city of Jerusalem, to the place of the skull, circa early to mid April, 33 AD, upon the man hanging on the second cross from the left.

So if you’re hurt or hurting, carrying bitter offense and pain at what someone has done to you, understand, you don’t just need to forgive, you need to be forgiven. Understand also that it’s not just some emotional good feeling that comes over you. It is a spiritual transaction whereby God imputes the sin of your unforgiveness back to Christ Jesus at Calvary.

And once you realize that, if such things really matter to you (and they should), you will find in yourself a renewed desire to forgive and so, find peace.

The Measure:

Determining whether or not you’ve truly forgiven someone, and so, have been forgiven by God, is easier than we think. To be sure, a lot of deceit and unrighteous justifications can be offered up to attempt to convince self and others that forgiveness has taken place when it really hasn’t. But there is a way to know, so long as one is willing to be honest with themselves and others.

Remembering that forgiveness required the Son of God to take our place and die on the cross so we could be forgiven and released from all debts and weights of sin, realize that to measure the depths of your forgiveness for someone who has hurt you must involve the same.

It’s really simple:

The measure of your forgiveness isn’t determined by any emotional experience. Feel goods can’t determine if you’ve forgiven someone. The emotional highs may be coming from a different source.

Being comfortable around the person who hurt you, as in being in the same room, can’t measure whether or not you have forgiven that person. You might just be overcoming your discomfort by sheer force of will.

Being able to talk about the person who has hurt you without sounding hateful, angry, or vengeful isn’t going to help you measure whether or not you have forgiven someone who has harmed you. You might just be subconsciously controlling your emotions because you know you’re not supposed to talk that way as a Christian.

Being able to smile, nod, say hello, and shake a hand or hug a person isn’t a sufficient way to measure whether or not you’ve truly forgiven someone who has hurt you. You might just happen to be in a good enough mood, or are faking it and deceiving yourself, to do any of this. After all, etiquette places burdens upon us all. And so, if we don’t want to seem unforgiving, we often pretend we aren’t and so smile, nod, say hello, and etc. out of responsibility to custom only.

Praying for someone who has hurt you isn’t the true measurement of forgiveness. You may just be doing what you know to be some form of obligated duty. Since Jesus said to pray for them who despitefully use you, you might just be attempting to do so out of rote obedience, not true forgiveness.

Not wanting anything bad to happen to someone who has injured you isn’t enough, either. Just because you don’t want anyone to get cancer or die in a plane crash, doesn’t mean you really care about them. You might just chalk this up to your worldview. And let’s face it, the likelihood that some random horrible and horrendous thing happening to the one person who has hurt you is low, so to not want it to happen is just living in a fantasy land.

And for the record, hoping they don’t go to hell is the least of your concerns if you are planning on forgiving someone. You might as well hope you don’t go to hell for not forgiving them.

So, while all of the above may be good and necessary at some point to experience (as long as the experience is authentic), none of it is the way whereby you can know the measure of your forgiveness of someone who has hurt or offended you.

The only real measurement that stands the test of time is this: If you knew God was going to avenge you on them, that He was going to drop the hammer down, crush, kill, and destroy their soul in fiery, eternal judgment, would you, like Jesus, take their place?

If the honest answer is no, then you haven’t truly forgiven the person that hurt you. Furthermore, you, yourself, haven’t truly been forgiven, either.

_________________________________________________________________________________________

[1] In the Gospel accounts, where Pontius Pilate releases Barabbas in order to please the people so that Christ may be crucified, understand that Barabbas, an insurrectionist and murderer, represents us in the story. Humanity has ever risen up against God and His rule over us, and in the process, has murdered, too often literally, but also symbolically, one another ever since (note that Barabbas means “son of the father”. While in sin, we are all sons of our father the devil [John 8:44]. Once forgiven and released, we, like Jesus Christ, become sons of the Father [2 John 1:3]).

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~ by votivesoul on 08/05/2015.

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