What is Forgiveness Part 1: The Basics

“God forgave us of our sins, so we need to forgive each other, so that God will forgive us.”

Many people have heard that line before. However, it often isn’t that simple, is it?

This post is the first of several, where will share what I’ve learned about forgiveness. While I’m not sure that forgiveness is a skill that you master, I do think that possessing a solid understanding of what forgiveness is—and isn’t—will help us when we are encountered with the arduous task of dealing with a wrong committed against us.

First, some ground rules. I’ll mention some scripture in these posts, because the Bible is foundational for a lot of my readers. However, I’m not wedded to the Bible or having to check off every orthodox belief about forgiveness. I do believe that forgiveness is healthy. But forgiveness can never be forced by fear. That’s coercion.

From hurtforhopewellness.com

From hurtforhopewellness.com

What exactly is forgiveness? My definition is this: to release someone from the penalty of a debt or grievance. Let’s use money as an example. Say someone owes you $100. They haven’t paid it in a while, and you’ve been waiting patiently. You’re furious with them. After a long while, you decide to let it go. You don’t ask for the money back anymore, and you don’t pursue any action that would lead to their harm for not paying the money. You drop the requirement for the money to be returned.

That is what I’ve come to view forgiveness as. I know that I have truly forgiven when I reach the point where I don’t look for some sort of recompense for what was done to me. I’m not expecting the person to change. I’m not looking for ways to make the person pay for what they’ve done. My expectation for some sort of recompense is gone.

This example also demonstrates some important things that are often missed when discussing forgiveness. Forgiveness does not pretend that no wrong was committed. Looking back to the example, notice how there was no pretending that the person didn’t owe the money. There was no magic spell that rewrote history and made the issue disappear. Early in my life, I was exposed to this sort of forgiveness, which is really a forgery. All that did was cause me to push the pain that I’ve experienced down, and never heal in my own way and time. I’ve learned that forgiveness is grounded in reality. The person in the example still owed the money, just like the person or people that hurt you actually did something to hurt you. Acknowledging that is a vital part in forgiving.

Also, notice how there is no mention of reconciliation. This may be hard for some to accept, but forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing.The loaner of the money never, ever has to loan money to the person again. They don’t even have to be friends. Forgiveness is, quite simply, dropping the requirement of payment. That’s it. Forgiveness does not require a restoration of the relationship that existed prior to the wrong being committed. Often, people in church and elsewhere lump forgiveness and reconciliation together. You have to “hurry up and forgive” so thing can go on as usual.

Forgiveness is not ignoring the fact that you are in pain and/or not acknowledging that someone in your community harmed you. 

So moving forward, here are some other thoughts about forgiveness:

  • Forgiveness, trust, and reconciliation are all separate things. Don’t lump them together.
  • Forgiveness is far more about you and your peace than the offending party.
  • Forgiveness is a process. It takes time; you don’t have to rush it.
  • Forgiveness can be a part of justice, but not necessarily.
  • God does not hate you, even if you can’t forgive someone right away.

We’ll get into more depth with later posts. Do you have any questions or thoughts about forgiveness? Talk in the comments…


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