What Forgiveness is Not

For Lent this year, I am preaching a sermon series on “The Forgiveness Factor.”  One of the most asked for sermons, in my experience, is a sermon on forgiveness.  I think forgiveness needs more than one sermon, it needs a series and probably should be preached about once a year.  

Forgiveness is not easy,  simple and or a one time event.  Part of the reason for the series, is that like grief, I believe forgiveness is a process, and with all the research I have done, I am obviously not the only one.  Forgiveness requires commitment, faith and a belief that in forgiving one is not only set free, but one has an opportunity to let go of bitterness, resentment and hatred and have space for grace and love.

In today’s sermon, I spoke to what forgiveness is not.  I think it almost impossible to begin the process of forgiveness without defining what it isn’t.  So often I have heard versions of, “I would forgive, but…”  

I did not create this list, it came from multiple sources.  So here is the list of what forgiveness is not, including full citations (which is hard to do in the midst of preaching and was not cited in full on the screen):

  Forgiveness is not forgetting


  Forgiveness is not condoning or excusing. Or saying what the person did was okay.


  Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation


  Forgiveness is not justice


 Forgiveness does not mean the person can abuse you, wrong you again, or that you allow others to do so.

When you can’t say “I Forgive You”,   By Grace Ketterman, M.D. And David Hazard

  Forgiveness is not trusting the person or relieving them of responsibility.


In other words, the forgiveness is not about the other person, it is a spiritual practice that is about me and about you.  When we get past the idea that somehow the other person will “get away with something” and away from the idea if we hang on to our anger and bitterness that somehow it will change the past, the situation or the other person, we are free to let go and leave everything in hands of God.  

In the words of Paul, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12: 17-18)  Or in the words of a image I saw on Facebook (unattributed of course)
Forgiveness is not a blanket invitation for a person who hurt us to have an open invitation to do so again. Reconciliation is wonderful if it occurs.  Justice when served is right and good.  These things do not always happen, but are not necessary for forgiveness.  What is necessary is for each one of us to give up the past, the resentment and bitterness that hold us captive.  
In the midst of all that occurs, for good and ill, God has promised forgiveness to us and through Christ challenges us to forgive others.  In the midst of the process of forgiveness, I am graced to serve.

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