Forgiving is for Giving

By Joel A. Hess

Everybody loves “forgiveness!” Who would disagree with the importance and blessing of forgiveness? Sure, Christianity emphasizes it probably more than any other religion or philosophy, but it would be foolish to conclude it enjoys a monopoly on mercy.

As I was preparing for last week’s sermon, I thought I would google the words “forgive” and “forgiveness” to see what people are saying. (No, I wasn’t looking for a sermon to preach.)

Everyone has something to say about forgiveness. It isn’t just a religious term. The Mayo Clinic recommends it like vitamins. Psychology Today applauds its mental benefits. Even PBS promotes forgiveness in its Mein Kampf for a new society.

Each article I read proscribed forgiveness for good mental health. Mayo Clinic even defined forgiveness as “a decision to let go of resentment and thoughts of revenge.” Even Max Lucado says, “forgiveness is unlocking the door to set someone free and realize you were the prisoner.” And an oft-repeated quote I read was “Forgiveness is not something we do for other people. It’s something we do for ourselves to move on.”

Call the police! There has been a robbery! Someone stole the idea of forgiveness and replaced it with a counterfeit psychobabble piece of self-centered manure!

It’s so typical of our society that thinks it can replace religion with therapy. It’s so predictable that we are only motivated to forgive if it benefits us in some way.

There are certainly secondary benefits to forgiving that can be enjoyed by the forgiver. But if feeling good is your prime motive to forgive, you ain’t ever gonna get it.

Forgiving is for GIVING! It’s a gift not to yourself, you selfish narcissistic hooligan! It’s a gift to the person you are forgiving! If it isn’t that, it isn’t forgiveness!

Forgiveness is not simply a feeling of letting go. It’s an action that has real tangible consequences experienced by that son of a gun who hurt you. Yeah! Forgiveness is supposed to make him feel better! Oh, now you don’t really like forgiveness, do you? “What about me?” your ego cries.

No one benefits from your stupid feelings. They do benefit from your refrain of punishment, even justice. They do benefit from your refrain from smearing their name in public. They do benefit from you smiling at them, hugging them, and speaking to them as if they never did anything wrong. That is forgiveness. If your idea of forgiveness doesn’t look like the above, you are not forgiving! Who cares how you feel? You might as well put your enemy in a headlock. Forgiveness is not primarily about your peace. It’s about your enemy’s peace. Capiche?

Real forgiveness is hard, and it seems almost impossible. And probably no matter how much we desire to accomplish it, we defile with our unclean hands and mouth.

The good news is that Jesus OWNS forgiveness. Everybody might talk about it. Many religions might extol it. But Jesus owns it! Christianity alone owns this word!

For all mankind is in debt to God. More than that, we are enemies of Him and all that is good. We are enemies of one another. Yet God sent His Son not to collect on the debt, not to condemn the debtor, but to forgive.

Christ paid our debts on the cross. He didn’t simply forgive in His heart but with his own blood, even his life. They mocked Him and whipped Him. They spit on Him and punished Him. He took it all upon himself—every hateful word, every beaten child, every lustful look, every broken marriage, every sex abuse, every violent swing, every stolen penny, every bruising word. Everything, everyone fell upon him with every hammer blow until he cried, “It is finished.”

Our debt has been paid. Our sins are forgiven. More than that, God does not hold our sins against us. He welcomes us into His house as if we had never done anything wrong.

He forgives you not because it makes him feel good. He forgives me not because it gives him peace. He forgives us because He loves us, because He truly desires for us to have peace. He gives us forgiveness.