The Observer and Forgiveness
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” ~ Matthew 18:21-22 ESV
Last month was not an easy one for so many reasons in America. July 2015 wasn’t an easy month either. In mid-June of that year, a young man joined a Bible study held at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. After participating for a while, he opened fire on the church members, killing nine people including the senior pastor, also a state senator. The shooter was white and claimed he murdered the church members in hopes of igniting a race war.
Like the rest of the country, I marveled at the strength of the church members who spoke of forgiveness so quickly after their loved ones were murdered. But I was even more impressed with the ones who were honest enough to admit they would get there but not yet, that it would take time.
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Jesus didn’t say how long it would take. He said we needed to forgive over and over. Two different things. @Grace_and_Such
If you are trying to forgive someone or yourself, remember that. Forgiveness takes time, practice, moving on and sometimes moving away from the person or institution, especially in cases where a person’s life has been irreparably harmed.
That brings me back to the Emanuel Church massacre. Within Peter’s question there’s another side to this scripture- the observer side. Peter watched Jesus forgive sin on a daily basis, saw others forgive thanks to Jesus’ example. Knowing Peter, it gnawed at him, made him ask the question about forgiving others.
In the country right now, we’ve made forgiveness of others by others our own personal business, primarily through social media. When it comes to tragedies involving race, police violence and other hot button issues, we observers celebrate victims speaking of forgiveness quickly. Many times, it’s because of the three Fs. Often observers want to close the door on the tragedy and the issues it’s raised. They want to forget the incident. They hope the victims will make it go away. Folks may fear the ramifications in the greater community. Sometimes, they want to force forgiveness because secretly they believe the victims deserved it in some way or believe they must protect an institution.
But forgiveness is not forgetting the actions of a person, the pain they’ve caused. That’s just not healthy and may prevent the victim(s) from healing, an institution from looking at its own actions, a community from coming together. Expecting forgiveness of one’s self or others because of fear also leads to festered wounds. Forcing forgiveness? All that does is add more scarring.
Are you an observer of something on the news or in your community? Step back and think about that incident. Are you applauding the victim’s or victim’s family’s quick forgiveness because it makes YOU feel better? Do you expect their statements to make the incident go away? Do you have a friend who has been hurt by another friend deeply? Are you pushing a friend to forgive a hurt because you just wish she’d stop talking about it or because you sincerely want her healing to begin? What makes another’s situation resonate with you, that causes you discomfort? What is God telling you?
We don’t need to force forgiveness or support premature forgiveness in others. Examine your own fears. Observe what’s in your own heart and mind. Most importantly, is there forgiveness you haven’t done or not done fully? That’s what we need to concentrate on.
Jesus said we are to forgive over and over. That work is enough to keep us busy. That’s enough to keep us healing.
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So agree. Sometimes forgiveness is in the daily resolve to forgive another until that time when it no longer becomes a daily practice. And I like your thoughts on forcing forgiveness on others or ourselves. I think God is patient with these things. He gives us grace to forgive on our time frame, and eventually gentle nudging if we drag our feet. Thanks, Julie!
And that daily resolve is pure strength from God. Thanks for your comment.
You give me so much to think about!! From Jesus telling us to do it, to watching Jesus do it time and again (we won’t even talk about the Cross!), to wanting others to forgive so I don’t feel so fearful…gotta take some time with this one. Thanks, Sis, for this….
Yep, this article was overdue because the whole process of writing it had me taking my time to contemplate how it affected my own life. Praying for your own discernment.
Very well said. This was the forgiveness I was thinking of when I wrote my Migrations of the Heart series. It takes a long, long time and is an act of repetition. Thank you for writing this column, Julie!
I love that series for just that reason, Piper. Thanks for commenting.
Beautiful, Julie. Making me think…such a sanctifying process. Everyone has her own path & timetable.
My take away on this, Sis, is that forgiveness takes time. I know from experience it can actually take decades! Big hurts take big stretches of time to work through. All along the way, I THOUGHT I’d forgiven but I think really, I was just practicing.