How to learn to forgive in our get-’em-back culture

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Forgiveness is a word you don’t hear often. Some people might say that forgiveness is a word you don’t hear often nowadays. But I wasn’t around prior to 1985. And I am not certain that forgiveness is a word people used more before 1985.

We live in a get-’em-back culture. Get-’em-back cultures are not prone to teach people to forgive one another. Get-’em-back cultures are prone to teach people to get ’em back. At least they are prone to teach people to get ’em back when the person getting it back is someone else. It is ironic then that when we deserve to get it back, we are never the first to raise our hands to receive our just punishment.

We want forgiveness.

Forgiveness is the thing that holds churches, marriages and all other relationships together. The Bible says a lot about forgiveness. Jesus said,  “Forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions” (Mark 11:25). That means God does not forgive people who are unforgiving. Forgiveness is far more important than getting ’em back.

Forgiveness is hard, though. If we are going to be honest, forgiveness is an impossible thing to do without the power of God. Forgiveness means to let it go, to give it up, to cancel out a debt, to pardon. Did you just think of that Disney tune my children like? Letting it go is not that easy. Forgiveness means that you do not bring it up again. That is why forgiveness is hard.

Consider the last argument or disagreement you had. It could have been at home with your spouse or sibling. It could have been at the gas station with a clerk. It could have been over some horrible wrong that was done to you. And now it is hard to move forward because you still think about that thing done, whether you deserved it or not. You still get worked up over it. If you are in another disagreement with that same person, you bring that old dirt up as ammo in your argument.

What are you proving when you bring that dead cat out of the dirt? You are proving that you have not forgiven. You are proving your own bitterness. You still harbor resentment. Instead of dealing with the problem that started the conversation, you are back to talking about the thing that happened way back when, which has no bearing on life today. You have been distracted by the past and cannot deal with the present. Refusing to forgive forces you to live in the past and not the present.

Let me briefly explain what forgiveness is not. Forgiveness is not forgetting. That is observed. God does not forget. The God of the Christian Bible alone is omniscient and all-knowing (1 John 3:20). Yet, he forgives (Mark 2:5–7). His forgiveness is so perfect that it seems almost as if he forgets. That is because God does not bring the sin he forgave back up. God lets it go.

Forgiveness is not overlooking sin. God does not turn a blind eye to evil. He will forgive your sins when you repent and believe in Jesus Christ alone (Mark 1:15). But God does not overlook those sins you commit today as if you didn’t do them: “Sin brings forth death” (James 1:15). Sin causes spiritual death, that is, it breaks the relationship between you and God. Sin is the cause physical death (Gen. 3). Sin causes death to human relationships.

We still deal with many repercussions in this life that are natural results from those sins. It is wrong for Christians to marry outside of the Christian faith. Many Christians have done this, and then the marriage is a living hell because they fail to stress that religious ideology dictates everything you do. It determines the way you raise children, the way you spend money, where you go, the friends you make and so on. Muslims and atheists raise their children differently than Christians because Christians believe we are all sinners from birth (1 Kings 8:46; Psa. 14:1–3; Rom. 5:12): “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psa. 51:5 NIV2).

What a comfort it is to know what forgiveness is not! That person who was horribly sexually abused can forgive the monster who did such a thing even though it will never be forgotten. It is also comforting to know that God never forgets. God does not forget anything. That is why God will judge all sinners who never believe in his son, Jesus Christ. God will judge that horrible person for his sins if he never repents and believes in Jesus.

What a comfort!

It is comforting to know that forgiveness is not overlooking sin. You can forgive someone without a full restoration of fellowship. True love and forgiveness seeks to restore fellowship. But sometimes you know from experience that the person who harmed you is prone to one sin or another. If you have been lied to many times, you can forgive that person and still be aware and leery of that individual because you know he or she is a habitual liar. You can forgive him and still be mindful of his temptations to sin.

Forgiveness means letting it go. It means not bringing it up again. Forgiveness means that you don’t hold it against that person. Be a forgiving person from this day forth, and you will find many joys in many ways: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matt. 6:12).

The Rev. Andrés Reyes is senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Perry.

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