The Trumpet Sounds: ‘Forgiveness?’

By Barry Pettit - Religion Writer

This month at South Side we are doing a series entitled “I.D.” where we are talking about our six core values as a church. Our core value this weekend is “Forgiveness Is Forever!” Forgiveness is something we love to receive but we often struggle with giving it to others. “There’s no way I can forgive him for what he has done. This time he knew exactly what he was doing.” So often Christians can’t or won’t forgive. Often the reason is that they have accepted a counterfeit forgiveness. To grasp what true forgiveness is, we must examine these common counterfeits.

Counterfeit 1: Excusing. A speeding car driven by a drunk careens off an icy street and kills a 12-year-old boy. If his devout parents believe they must excuse the driver because he was drunk, they will not forgive. Excusing says, “I see you couldn’t help it or didn’t mean it; you weren’t really to blame.” That would be a lie. Forgiveness is the opposite of excusing. It reaches beyond excusing. Forgiveness acknowledges that drunken driving is inexcusable but pardons the offender anyway. Excusing has its place, however. Many times there are extenuating circumstances. When we discover the circumstances that motivated a person, our understanding enables us to make allowances for him. But make no mistake, excusing is not forgiveness. As C.S. Lewis notes, such excusing “is not Christian charity; it is only fair-mindedness. To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”

Counterfeit 2: Minimizing the Hurt. We often deal with petty injuries by telling ourselves it doesn’t matter. A child breaks her aunt’s teacup and is graciously told, “That’s all right, dear, I didn’t like that pattern anyway.” Maturity dictates we put our injuries into proper perspective; we must be slow to take offense. The danger comes, however, when we confuse minimizing the hurt with true forgiveness. If our primary reaction when we’re harmed by another is to tell ourselves feebly, it really didn’t hurt that much, there are times it just won’t wash. Jimmy may be able to overlook a bully punching him at the bus stop, but what does he do when gang members scar his face for life? Unless we see the difference between acting as if the injury is minor, and pardoning one who has hurt us deeply, we will eventually find ourselves unwilling to “forgive.”

Counterfeit 3. Blind Trust. “I’ve found drugs in Jim’s room so often, I can’t trust him, no matter how sincerely he assures me he’ll stop. Does this mean I haven’t forgiven him?” Forgiving isn’t the same as trusting. Even when Jesus’ countrymen believed his miracles, we are told, “Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for … He Himself knew what was in man” (John 2:24-25). There is a vast difference between forgiveness and trust; one is given, the other is earned. To someone faced with a person who perpetually breaks his promise, C.S. Lewis prescribes forgiveness: “This doesn’t mean you must necessarily believe his next promise. It does mean that you must make every effort to kill every trace of resentment in your own heart—every wish to humiliate or hurt him or to pay him out.”

Counterfeit 4: Forgive and Forget. A vague anxiety gnaws at a woman who was once assaulted. Her mind replays the crime over and over. If she cannot forget, has she forgiven? I have wondered, When the books are opened on the great day of judgment described in Revelation 20:12, will my sins be recorded there? Has God suffered eternal amnesia? Is it impossible for Him to remember? No. God chooses not to remember my sins. The New Testament twice cites Jeremiah 31:34 (in Hebrews 8:12 and 10:17), as if to emphasize the point: “I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” “Not remembering” is by no means equal to “forgetting absolutely.” It means not making an effort to recall something to mind. God has not wiped out His memory banks concerning our sins; rather, He has chosen not to call them to mind against us again. I believe my sins are recorded in God’s books, but over each one is written in bold red letters “Forgiven.”

“To err is human, to forgive is divine,” Alexander Pope reminds us. So often we take our models for forgiveness from the counterfeits in the culture around us rather than from our Heavenly Father’s true example. Centuries ago, George Herbert distilled the issue: “He that cannot forgive others breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass if he would ever reach heaven; for everyone has the need to be forgiven.” No one said forgiving is easy. But we cannot be satisfied with quick counterfeits. Like our Father, we must face sins and pardon them boldly, enabled by His grace. This Sunday at South Side we will unpack why forgiveness is forever. Worship begins at 10:45, and we hope to see you there!

In Christ,

Barry Pettit

Lead Minister

South Side Church of Christ

By Barry Pettit

Religion Writer