Of all the characteristics of Christianity, there is probably none more important than forgiveness. If God proclaimed His love to humankind by sacrificing His only Son on the cross of Calvary, He demonstrated His love for us by forgiving us freely of all transgressions through His Son Jesus Christ. A person who cannot forgive has either misunderstood the gospel or perhaps is not a Christian in the first place. I believe it is that fundamental to Christianity.
Myth: Forgiveness is forgetting
This does not work on either the human or the divine level. We believe that God is omniscient, or all-knowing. How can you have a god that is all-knowing who forgets? Let’s be clear. God has never forgotten even one single sin that anyone has ever committed, but He has forgiven all sin through belief in His Son Jesus Christ. God cannot forget and neither can we. There are times that we do forget, but that is inherent in the human condition. We cannot will ourselves to forget. It happens. We forget our keys, phone numbers, appointments (particularly with dentists and other purveyors of pain). In time, we may forget offenses, but we cannot decide to just forget. It doesn’t work that way.
The Truth: Forgiveness is Remembering No More
God says: And the Holy Spirit also testifies that this is so. For he says, “This is the new covenant I will make with my people on that day”, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” Then he says, “I will never again remember their sins and lawless deeds.” And when sins have been forgiven, there is no need to offer any more sacrifices. [Hebrews 10:15-18 NLTse]
In today’s vernacular, God said that he would never again confront us with our sins. That is the very essence of forgiveness. It is a lot tougher than we would like it to be. Forgetting is easy and the lazy person’s way out of a difficult situation. Christianity is not an easy faith, nor is it one for those who are lazy. So, when you say to someone that you forgive him, you are telling that person that you will never again, under any circumstances, ever confront that person with their misdeed or sin again. There is no need for that person to apologize constantly or repeatedly because you are never going to remember that sin again.
Myth: I can forgive in solitude. I don’t have to tell anyone or let anyone know I have forgiven others
Let’s see what God says about that: So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God. [Matthew 5:23-24 NLTse]
From this passage we see that God’s priorities are both on the horizontal plane and also with reconciling differences between people. There are faiths that can be exercised in isolation. Christianity is not one of them. This passage also shoots down another myth: that forgiveness is merely avoiding the offending individual. Peace is not the absence of war. It is an active state that is often produced by forgiveness. We do not live on islands, in isolation or in a vacuum. Sin is unavoidable in our world. If our lives never got screwed up, we wouldn’t need Visa cards, but we also wouldn’t need God’s love and forgiveness constantly. It isn’t easy to be a person of forgiveness. It’s hard. People are going to do things that hurt you and those you love. They are going to betray you, lie to you, deceive you. People you thought were your friends are going to turn out to be nothing like you thought they were. As Christians, we are obligated in Christ to forgive them every single time they betray us, hurt us, offend us, sin against us. As abundantly as God has forgiven us, we are called to forgive others. It is a radical departure from our culture, but then again, Christianity is counter-cultural.