‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors (Matt 6:12).
Today, I am reflecting on our discussion on the complex nature of human forgiveness. It strikes me that many times Christians believe divine and human forgiveness follow the same process. Can we forgive as God does? More importantly, does God expects us to forgive in the same manner as he does? I suggest there are significant differences in divine and human forgiveness and an understanding of these differences will help us immeasurably in our struggle to forgive those who hurt us.
The objective of divine forgiveness is reconciliation, we forgive to experience spiritual, emotional and mental healing and growth. Sin is an offense against God, separates us from him, and brings us under his condemnation and wrath. We live without God and without hope in the world. However, divine grace sent Christ to exchange places with us, he took our condemnation and gave us his righteousness. In doing so, he reconciled us to God. That is to say, he removed the barrier between us and God. Now, through Christ’s unbelievable sacrifice, when we seek forgiveness from God, we experience the benefits of reconciliation with God. In human forgiveness, the purpose of forgiveness is to release resentment and hatred toward the perpetrator so we may experience healing and growth in mind, body and spirit.
God’s forgiveness benefits only the forgiven, while human forgiveness mainly benefits the forgiver. God does not derive any benefit from forgiving us since in forgiving he is acting in accordance with his loving nature. On the human level, when I forgive the one who hurt me, I set myself free from the toxic effects of an unforgiving spirit. If my forgiveness results in reconciliation, the forgiven also benefits. However, human forgiveness does not always achieve that end. There are instances when reconciliation would be harmful. Paul advises us, “as much as possible, live at peace with all” (Rom 12:18).
God’s forgiveness requires, repentance and confession of sin, while human forgiveness is bestowed regardless of the perpetrator’s attitude. Divine forgiveness grants entry into God’s kingdom and eternal life to the forgiven. In human forgiveness, those benefits go to the forgiver. Jesus taught his disciples “But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Matt 6:15). Some recoil from this command with the belief that God is unreasonable and harsh, but God’s motive is our spiritual and emotional health. An unforgiving heart blocks the healing process and limits the spirit of God from completing his work in us. This puts our standing with God at risk. My refusal to forgive may have eternal consequences for me.
God’s forgiveness is instantaneous while human forgiveness is a process. In response to our request, God grants immediate and unconditional forgiveness and pardon. We are treated as though we never sinned. Because of our human condition, we often require time to achieve the full effects of our decision to forgive the perpetrator. Some might even say, “I cannot forgive him/her for what they did to me!” However, given the blessings of this action, the real question is, “how can I not forgive?” The magnitude of the hurt, the betrayal or injustice may challenge us deeply and therefore may take some time to complete the healing process. Sometimes, this type of pain may only heal through prayer, fasting, and surrender to the action of the spirit, but with God all things are possible.