When I’ve contemplated doing it (not as often as I should), I’ve always thought of it as releasing my offender from my own wrath/punishment/revenge and instead trusting God’s (more just) dealings with him/her. I’m pretty sure teaching in the church has reinforced this idea—that the reason we forgive is because we aren’t responsible for our offender’s consequences. God, however, is.
But I’ve noticed something: such a release isn’t really a release. For it creates an opportunity (which, sadly, I’m all too inclined to take) to relish the idea of my offender’s experiencing consequences for his/her behavior. And not just any consequences, but those coming from the powerful hand of God Himself. “Ha!” says my (dark) heart, as I “release” my offender from my own scrawny-by-comparison attempts at righting the wrong.
But Frederica Mathews-Green offers a different definition of forgiveness. She asserts that forgiving someone involves relinquishing my own impulse for the offender to be punished at all—by me, by circumstances or “logical consequences,” by God Himself. She describes the prayer of forgiveness this way: “Father, I ask for my offender to be released from Your punishment.”
This is a game-changer. One I’m not sure I’m ready—and certainly not yet able—to negotiate just yet.
Yet I can't ignore that her definition echoes the prayer of Jesus, who asks God to forgive those who killed Him, even saying they didn’t know what they were doing. In an audacious prayer, Jesus not only releases His murderers from well-deserved punishment to be doled out by none other than God (His father, by the way), but He goes on to release them from the culpability of realizing the heinous nature of their actions.
When I absorb the ramifications of Jesus’ prayer, it is nearly incomprehensible.
Such a release, says Frederica Mathewes-Green, is what real forgiveness looks like.
This is a new word. And a very hard word.
But I’m reminded of how readily I accept the idea that God’s forgiveness through Christ’s death is for everyone. And although I’ve been hesitant to include my own sin-ridden, very-undeserving self in the “everyone” category, I've finally allowed myself to believe that I, too (even I!) could be a recipient of His forgiveness.
And I’ve been overwhelmed at the all-encompassing, eternal, amazingly redemptive nature of that forgiveness.
But if I’m going to include myself in the “everyone” category—if I’m going to allow myself to dance in the shimmer that is His forgiveness—then I must also include my offenders in that same category.
Certainly my offender is no less offensive than I, and no less worthy of such forgiveness.
Yes, this word on forgiveness, it is hard.