Yesterday, I heard Oprah say that forgiveness is all about you - it's not about the offender. It's a tool for setting yourself free from any negative feelings that bind you to the offender and then simply walking on and moving forward with your life, oblivious to whatever may be happening with him or her. It has nothing to do with condoning the hurtful actions of another. It's all about you and moving forward.
I bought into it at first, because the struggles of those around me who have tried to deal with horrible situations of offense would seem to merit that brand of forgiveness. If they could simply speak or write words of forgiveness and then shake off the bonds that tied them to the individual and forget him or her, life might take a fresh turn for them. Everybody knows that hatred, bitterness and unforgiveness have serious physiological consequences over time.
And Oprah was right in saying that forgiveness has nothing to do with condoning the offense of a perpetrator.
The problem is that I have seen sincere efforts, a la Oprah, fail. Now I am seeing people who have taken steps of that kind of forgiveness encased in thick walls of anger or cloaked in denial of real feelings. That kind of forgiveness doesn't work over the long haul. It's powerless.
So - what's the real deal on forgiveness? How does one really do it?
Well - in order for a definition of the concept of forgiveness to have merit, we have to go to the architect of the concept. In this case, it was God Himself. He designed the concept to deal with the offense of the world as a means to have it (us) restored to Him. That was the whole purpose of forgiveness. Restoration.
Now it gets complicated. Restoration takes us where we don't want to go with a person who has hurt us badly.
I thought about what it would be like if God were to watch Oprah and follow her direction for forgiveness. A word from Him, to us, would have to go like this: "Okay - so - you've really hurt my feelings because of what you did. However, I know that in order to keep myself healthy and move ahead with my life, I need to forgive you. So - I forgive you. However, that doesn't mean that I ever want you in my life again. You've lost my trust and I don't ever want to have anything to do with you again. I'm setting myself free of you. Goodbye."
That scenario obviously falls very short of God's meaning of forgiveness. We all know that in order for Him to accomplish His own absolute forgiveness, He had to make the greatest personal sacrifice. But He did it. It was so difficult for Him, that the whole earth turned black in the process. The light went out of the world. It was a time of intense separation from His personal comfort - but it was a temporary separation that would lead the only way to genuine peace. Restoration.
I thought about my most significant experience with forgiveness. It immediately followed the very moment of the most intense offense of my life. My husband's confession shattered everything I had built over a lifetime. As his words came to me over the horizontal plane, a supernatural gift of forgiveness, grace, mercy and compassion was dropped from above, vertically, into my brain, heart and soul, accomplishing a preemptive strike against bitterness.
At that moment of intense pain, I didn't have to scrounge around trying to find God and cry out for His support. He was already there. I already had a relationship with Him. His Holy Spirit was already inside and around me. He was already positioned to do His work.
As we stood there, it was as though the Grand Canyon opened up between my husband and me. Our marriage was over – but that didn't mean I rejected him as a person. His actions had made it impossible for us to proceed with the nicest plan for our lives (an intact family) but one doesn't throw people away. People are not disposable.
As my husband faced me across the yawning divide of the canyon, I saw him as a prince who had traded his kingdom for a bag of snakes. He had bought into the lies of the enemy who had seduced him with the "joys" of sin and now he had to deal with the outcome of his trade. I felt sorry for him - that he had been so weak as to buy into the lies.
That supernatural gift of compassion has enabled me to continue to value the father of my children, help him in whatever way possible to get back on his feet and restart his life, and experience the genuine peace in my heart that is so critical to truly moving ahead with my own life. It has enabled me to live above the potential, personal destruction.
I believe that true forgiveness can happen only as a gift from the heart of God. It cannot be contrived, drummed up or structured from the limitations we place on it. If one really wants to forgive, one has first to genuinely connect to God in sincere desire to experience life's "real deal". When one is willing to lay down all the hurts, the disappointments and shame of life, God will heal the heart and allow us to extend His forgiveness through us.
Empowerment? It requires a Source beyond ourselves.
(Copyright 2012, Diane Roblin-Lee)