It would seem obvious that forgiveness, both the giving and the receiving of it, is hard. It is hard to give it because, after all, you are being asked to give up something you deserve. You deserve to be angry when someone insults you. Receiving forgiveness is hard, too, because you have to admit you are in the wrong and you are at fault.
But the title of this blog is not The Difficulty of Forgiveness, but The Peril of Forgiveness. How can forgiveness be perilous?
I was reading a humorous cartoon that made a passing reference to the “nine steps of forgiveness.” I was curious. What were the steps? Have I been missing something? I went looking on the web. (Where else?)
The site I found didn’t appear to be Christian, but it offered what seems to be some good advice: “Forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation with the person that hurt you, or condoning of their action…. Get the right perspective on what is happening. Recognize that your primary distress is coming from the hurt feelings, thoughts and physical upset you are suffering now, not what offended you or hurt you two minutes – or ten years – ago…. Give up expecting things from other people.”
But then it concluded with this: “Remember that a life well lived is your best revenge…. Forgiveness is about personal power. Amend your grievance story to remind you of the heroic choice to forgive.”
This advice is perilous. If forgiveness is about revenge or personal power or being a hero, it is all about asserting one’s superiority over another person. The source of forgiveness is our own strength. The world calls this “empowerment.” The Bible gives it a better name: Pride. Pride elevates self above everyone else, including God.
The Christian’s basis for forgiving others is that we have been forgiven by God through Jesus Christ. I am not wonderful. He is wonderful. I am not self-empowered. He is empowering. He is the only true and lasting source of forgiveness. All others are counterfeits.
Even though we may understand the Christian basis for forgiveness, the world’s way can sneak in. Satan would be delighted to have us seem to be more forgiving, if he can increase our pride. “Look how I have grown. I have learned to forgive. I am a good, wonderful, self-empowered person. I am superior because I have forgiven them.”
So here’s the practical question: When you forgive someone, what is your opinion of yourself? Are you thinking, “I am a better than others because I forgive?” Or are you thinking, “Father, forgive me my trespasses as I forgive others”?