Have You Ever Forgiven Anyone?

In the September 30, 2006 issue of WORLD Magazine, columnist Andree Seu wrote about “The Thing We Don’t Do,” namely – forgive. Her commentary, as always, is both insightful and convicting.

Forgiving is the hardest thing you will ever do. That’s why most people don’t do it. We talk about it, cheer for it, preach on it, and are sure we’ve practiced it. . . .

I asked a few people if they’d ever forgiven anyone, and what it felt like. They gave me answers so pious I knew they’d never done it. I am at the present moment in the maw of temptation, and I can tell you there is nothing exalted about this feeling, this one-two punch to the gut that comes when you even contemplate forgiving, which is as far as I’ve come.

Seu goes on in the article to describe the different options for action toward the individual which she had contemplated:

At first I decided I would forgive the person—and never speak to him again. This felt pretty good, but I saw the dissimulation in it at once. I alternately toyed with going to him to “tell him his fault” (Matthew 18:15), which is my biblical right, so there. I had the decree of rebuke written up in my head, a document of fastidious and plenary detail—all for his own good. A smarmy satisfaction accompanied the plan, so I nixed it. For now.

But merely keeping one’s mouth shut is not true forgiveness:

Keeping one’s mouth shut is commendable, and more than I have managed in the past. It will work as long as I don’t go near a phone or e-mail. But I am reminded that “Absolom spoke to Amnon neither good nor bad” for two whole years after the rape of his sister Tamar, and it ate him alive till in the end he killed the man.

Seu then offers this excellent description of true forgiveness:

Forgiveness is a brutal mathematical transaction done with fully engaged faculties. It’s my pain instead of yours. I eat the debt. I absorb the misery I wanted to dish out on you, and you go scot-free. Beware the forgiveness that is tendered soon after injury; be suspicious. Real forgiveness needs a time lag, for it is wrought in private agony before it ever comes to public amnesty. All true acts of courage are thus done in secret.

A story told by Tim Keller about a man who went through this painful process of forgiveness is recited by Seu to illustrate the courageous nature of acts of forgiveness done in secret.

“I forgave her and it took me a whole year and I had to forgive her in small sums over that whole twelve months. I paid those sums whenever I spoke to her and kept myself from rehashing the past. I paid them whenever I saw her with another man and refused self-pity and rehearsal inside for what she’d done to me. I paid them whenever I praised her to others when I really wanted to slice away at her reputation. Those were the payments but she never knew them. However, I never knew her payments, but I know she made them. I could tell.”

Finally, Seu concludes her article with these challenging words:

And now the unthinkable: not only to forgive but seek the good. Nature abhors a vacuum and Jesus admits of no middle ground between hate and love. Pray for him.

When you were a child you thought like a child, that pain was something to flee. Now in the adulthood of faith, suck up your hundred denarii, because someone took your ten thousand talents upon Himself (Matthew 18), and like a lamb led to slaughter and a sheep before its shearers was silent (Isaiah 53:7). He did not retaliate but “continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23). Be so awash in the ocean of His love, my soul, that the shortcomings of all human loves will, more and more, seem but a trifling thing.

Go thou and do likewise.

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