Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Flavors of Forgiveness

Forgiveness, at first glance, may appear to be a one-size-fits all proposition. But I don't believe it is. In essence, For me, it helps to identify three types or "flavors" of forgiveness. All of these come down a considered decision to release a debtor from their debt or an offender from their offense. And yet, all three have unique features as well.

The Flavor of Generosity:

Generosity is "garden variety" forgiveness. I believe the scripture calls us to live a characteristically generous lifestyle of forgiveness towards those who have offended us without malice. If our "brother" (not enemy) sins against us 70 times 7 in a day - we are to generously forgive them. The scriptures lead us to this posture of generosity by reminding us of how we ourselves are regularly and repeatedly forgiven by our generous God. In light of our receiving so much generous kindness, we can afford to be generous in our forgiveness of those who do not seek us harm. "Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you" (Colossians 3:13).

The Flavor of Obedient Forgiveness

This type of forgiveness may be offered to friend OR foe. Someone may have intentionally or unintentionally done us some harm or disservice. We are called to offer them forgiveness because God simply commands us to do so. It is not as much a matter of generosity as it is of obedience to God's expressed will. Therefore, I forgive because I am commanded to do so - not because I "feel like it" or have sympathy for the offender or from any other core motive that originates with some sort of personal cost/benefit analysis. I choose to let the offense go and release the offender to God because I am told I must. Emotional reverberations will go up and down in the aftermath, but the forgiveness I am offering does not proceed from a feeling or an emotion. Rather, it is a decision and it results in appropriate actions.

The Flavor of Radical Forgiveness

There is a flavor of what we might call "aggressive" forgiveness. We see it in the Apostle Paul's admonition to not be overcome by evil but to "overcome evil with good". Radical, aggressive forgiveness opens room for God's justice as well as His mercy. Instead of giving us permission to take vengeance or to understandably dish out evil in return for the evil we have suffered, it offers our coat to the man who has just taken our cloak as a way of getting in God's "last word" on the subject or the incident. It does not bend to the pull of expressed darkness. Instead, it shines the brighter light -- one that points directly to God as both its source and its destination. "Father, forgive (the men who humiliate, torture and destroy me), for they do not know what they are doing". Think of Paul and Barnabas with the Philippian jailor. Think of Corrie ten Boom and the Nazis. Think of Immaculee' Ilibagiza and the fellow Rwandans who murdered her family and who would also have murdered her. Radical forgiveness is fueled by the inextinguishable flame of goodness, mercy and strength that burns in the heart of God.

Discerning different kinds of forgiveness enables us to better handle the implications of the different kinds of offenses we experience. It also better equips us to make decisions in regards to how we will treat those who have harmed or offended us. So whether from a posture of generosity, obedience or even spiritual warfare, forgiveness offered through the grace of Christ always gives God the last word in a matter and glorifies Him as the source of boundless mercy and saving grace.

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