As I’ve mentioned before, I’m working my way through Scot McKnight’s book Jesus Creed. He has a chapter on forgiveness. I’ll summarize some of the points from that chapter in this post.
First of all, forgiving one another is not really and Old Testament concept. In the OT it is God who forgives Israel. The only significant example of forgiveness in the OT is Joseph forgiving his brothers. There are no commands in the law concerning forgiveness. We don’t see David forgiving his enemies in the Psalms. However, in the New Testament Jesus commands that we forgive one another. In the OT repentance is required for God to forgive us. In the NT Jesus now says that forgiving one another is required for God to forgive us. Jesus exemplifies the requirement that we have a disposition of forgiveness toward others.
So how do we forgive? First it is helpful to distinguish two dimensions of forgiveness. There is subjective forgiveness and objective forgiveness. Subjective forgiveness is the experience of forgiving – the releasing of emotion and the choice to end the internal cycle of offense. Objective forgiveness (sometimes referred to as reconciliation) is the elimination of the offense from the relationship. This isn’t always possible as it depends a lot on the disposition of the offender.
So, how do we forgive? McKnight outlines 5 steps:
- Confront the offense and the offender’s responsibility
- This is where I usually get hung up. I pretend it’s no big deal and try to ignore it.
- Recognize the impact
- This is required for subjective forgiveness to occur. We can’t release our anger until we recognize the pain.
- Choose to pursue objective forgiveness
- The victim chooses to “get over it”, absorb the injustice and offer grace.
- Actively purse objective forgiveness
- This takes time and wisdom and isn’t always possible; for instance, if the offender is violent and unrepentant.
- Forgiving creates an alternate reality
- By offering forgiveness to others they become alive in a way they did not expect and a cycle of grace is begun in their heart.
So there you go. Forgiveness in 5 easy steps. Easier said than done.