One of, if not the, central concepts in Christianity is the idea and practice of forgiveness. Jesus speaks of it often, and the writers of Scriptures that follow the Gospels did as well. For Jesus, forgiveness worked this way: if you want to be forgiven, you have to be a forgiving person. If you don’t, just be ready to not be forgiven for your sins. It seems simple, but it is not; while Jesus taught that the only unforgivable sin was “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” (He had just been accused of being in league with the Devil!), there are some things that might be unforgivable. There were a lot of times Jesus warned people that if they didn’t change or make things right, they would be punished by God. For me, those “maybe not” forgivable sins are the biggies; murder, rape, etc., and I will not be the one to tell you how to feel or act if these things have happened in your life. For Jesus, a person would be better off being thrown into the deepest ocean with a millstone around their neck than to hurt or cause a child to sin or stumble (Luke 17). Being a follower of Jesus has never been about universal salvation; some people will not be forgiven. 

For me, forgiving others has always been easier than accepting forgiveness for what I have done wrong. A priest once told me that he believed that God forgives us far more quickly than we forgive ourselves, and I have found this to be true in my personal life and in my ministry. There is a power differential, I think, between the forgiver and the forgiven; something is freeing, maybe even dominant, about looking a person in the eye and forgiving them. My experience is that the one forgiven then must take another step; to forgive oneself isn’t an easy task. At least, if you have any soul at all. 

To say it another way; a person who has been wronged has the upper hand, especially if it has been a public injury. Those who know of your suffering then look at the person who hurt you with scorn and, possibly, expectation. They are probably wondering how the person who did the hurting will make things right; how you will make amends to the injured party. This idea, studied in the field of Restorative Justice, isn’t about just being sorry and seeking forgiveness; it’s about making things right. This process takes up 2 steps (8 & 9) of AA’s 12-Step process, and it is necessary for any healing in both people’s lives to take place. Forgiving someone gives us freedom; accepting that gift can do the same. It puts the burden on the one who is being forgiven to find a place of healing as well. 

It isn’t easy to do either part and we can forgive someone without their accepting blame. Regardless, holding grudges and nursing grievances only hurts the one who is keeping them locked up inside. Forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting, and it does not mean there are no consequences for the one who has hurt the other. Accepting forgiveness for the wrongs we have done can lead us to heal in ourselves. Continuing to suffer for our sins will eventually destroy us, and while we might believe we deserve that destruction, I don’t think God wants that to happen. Jesus came, in part, to bring healing and reconciliation to all who seek it. Forgiving others, and accepting that forgiveness, is part of being blessed by God. And each other. 

Prayer – Forgive us, God, if we have hurt anyone, and help us to make things right. Amen. 

Today’s art is called “Forgiveness” by Akai Chounokoe