Wednesday, March 14, 2007


The topic on the radio talk show’s nine o’clock hour was forgiveness. The host related a story of a lady who said that she had forgiven the people who had killed one of her daughters and severely wounded another. Her daughters were twin twelve year olds, shot by a drive-by shooter last week. The host of the show didn’t know whether or not he could forgive someone so quickly if they had killed his daughter.

As you can imagine, there were phone calls galore, ranging across the spectrum of possible responses. There were those who said they would forgive someone after they had been punished, and there were those who said that the only one who can forgive is the victim and since one of them is dead, that’s not possible. Still others said they’d forgive the shooters only after “taking care of them.”

Others seemed more willing to forgive. A couple folks called in to say that they would forgive the shooters because that’s what their faith said they were supposed to do, and one caller said if Jesus could forgive people while on the cross, he supposed he could follow that example.

I don’t know where you are on this question, but it seems to me that quite a few of the callers missed the point entirely, and others, while closer to the ideal, still didn’t seem to grasp the concept of Christian forgiveness. It seems to me that forgiveness is not something we do, but rather something we are. Christian forgiveness isn’t something we wonder whether we should extend to various people, but an attitude, a readiness to forgive all comers because forgiveness is one of our characteristics. It is in our makeup. We should have a hard time not forgiving others, rather than a hard time deciding whether we will.

One caller said that forgiveness isn’t about the other person, but about me. If we don’t forgive, we harbor bitterness, hurt, sadness, anger, and in many cases depression. If we forgive, we free ourselves of the limiting and burdening weight that hanging on to hurt produces. I think that caller is close too, but not close enough. I think forgiveness is about the other person; it is about forgiving someone else.

While we may benefit from forgiving someone, we also free them. We lighten our load, but we also extend grace to them. Our God is an other-centered God not because He gets something from forgiving us, but because He cares for us. If we are like Him, we extend grace and forgiveness to others because they need it.

One of the callers essentially said “an eye for an eye, and I won’t rest until I get it.” Has it not dawned on us that this mentality is one of the causative factors in the Bosnian genocide, the conflict in Palestine, and the killing in Darfur? No, an eye for an eye is not the answer and that view is a dangerous one. It epitomizes the very opposite of forgiveness and grace toward others, and scars society for centuries.

Forgiveness is who we are. It is not something we do.

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