Here's something I've wondered about lately. From a Christian perspective, is forgiveness an expectation that we live up to, or a possibility that we live into?
There are several scriptures that call us to forgive, and many good reasons given, including the one most frequently trumpeted, and that is, that it's good for us. We are taught that in order to be forgiven, we must forgive; that not forgiving is like drinking the poison we intended for others; that unforgiveness is the reason we are bound and not experiencing that mysterious life of peace filled victory that we apparently have all been promised. These are the things I have heard, and are not intended to be a generalization. This has merely been what I have experienced.
So, you can see there is an expectation that we are called to live up to when it comes to forgiveness, and failure to live up to that expectation will have it's..(negative?).. consequences. From this perspective, forgiveness seems a little self serving to me. How many times did I hear "you NEED to forgive", when I lamented about those things that continued to give me pain, as if forgiveness was the magic antedote for all that ailed me.
But what if forgiveness is not the means to the end, but rather, the end itself; the possibility that we grow into, or live into; something that sneaks up on us, and becomes a part of our being, as opposed to something that we cognitively do, or an action we deliberately "try" or with effort, "make"?
Here is my thought...as we grow and heal emotionally and spiritually, we transform. It's a gradual, almost non discernible changing, one we are unaware of until something occurs that shines a light on it. As we face challenges, we find old traits, habits, and compulsions have simply been transformed, and have given way to a new way of being, and that way includes the power to forgive. I do not see forgiveness as a one time action, though it certainly contains that element of choice. Rather, I see it as an attitude of peace and empowerment. This empowerment has more to do with enabling us to love others, than it is to serve ourselves.
What do I mean when I say "it sneaks up on us?" Well, I can only witness to my own story of forgiveness. As a child I was beaten, abused, and sexually molested. I walked my life in anger and rage, and when I became a follower of Jesus Christ in 1998, I recall eventually becoming willing to forgive my offender, but only because it was what I was told to do. I was certainly willing to be made willing to forgive, and while that willingness was borne out of a self serving motive, it did not make it any less genuine. But the expectation placed upon me to forgive made it a struggle. Whenever the affects of my past required me to peal off another layer of the proverbial onion, I found myself questioning whether I'd truly forgiven or not.
A few months ago I discovered that my offender died. I learned that he had died alone, in a hospital room, surrounded only by strangers. The thought of that broke my heart. I would not have wanted that for him. My sincere hope for him was that he found peace with his Creator, and my hope remains that he is enjoying His presence even as I write this. It seems forgiveness has snuck up on me, and is now a part of how I live and move and have my being.
Forgiveness is a possibility that we live in to with willingness borne out of love. If we make it an expectation, it becomes more like something we live up to borne out of duty. There is far more freedom in love than there is in duty.