August 15, 2012

Chaplain’s Corner: Forgiveness

Lt. Greg Woodard
Station Chaplain

In this article I’d like to explore the mystery of forgiveness. Pastor Tim Keller’s book The Reason for God was very helpful for me in framing the thoughts I share below.

Forgiveness is very powerful and very difficult. An illustration will assist us here. Let’s imagine that someone borrows your car, and as they back out of your driveway, they run into a gate, knocking down part of the wall. Your insurance does not cover this type of damage. There are essentially three options, first: to demand that the driver pays for all damages, second: to refuse to allow them to pay anything, third: to agree to share the cost of the damages. In every option, someone is bearing the cost of the damage. Either you or the driver absorbs the cost of the accident, but the debt is not going to suddenly disappear.

The example above has money issues involved. Let’s say that the issue is more personal – like physical or sexual abuse. Perhaps the crime was committed by someone of wealth or authority or by someone of the opposite sex. A person who suffers this sort of offense will instinctively dislike all people of the same status, authority or gender for the rest of their lives.

There is another alternative: forgiveness. Forgiveness means refusing to make another person pay for what they have done. In my counseling, I’ve learned this idea of forgiveness is met with resistance, especially forgiveness of great evil. There is agony and suffering of soul for those offering forgiveness. There is a sense of lost opportunity to inflict the pain on one who has hurt you so much.

Forgiveness is not free. In a sense, it is a form of death – death to the right to hold onto the pain, and to inflict this pain on the perpetrator. Forgiveness is not pardoning someone of their wrong doing. It means that you are willing to give up holding the offense against them. Offenders should still be confronted, they need to be aware of the defect in their character, and others may need to be protected from the harm that they do.

In our Christian tradition, we are reminded that God, through Jesus Christ, is the ultimate forgiver of the ultimate evil – that is the forgiveness of all the sins of all of humanity.

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