Knowing the God You Worship

Do We Really Understand Forgiveness?


I’d like to think I’m a reasonable person, willing and able to forgive whenever necessary, but like so many of us, I have wounds from the past that became deep scars – and I haven’t forgotten the pain they caused.  In fact, if I’m honest, I’ve even subconsciously trained myself to avoid the types of people and situations that caused those wounds, just to avoid pain like that again.

Can you relate?  Perhaps you have a memory of a person or situation that caused you great pain, and you flinch a little at the memory?  Or maybe even worse, you harbor guilt over pain you caused someone?

It’s natural to learn from those hurts and mistakes in order to protect ourselves.  In fact, it can be wise.  Who would want to live in a state of perpetual pain or guilt, if you could avoid it?

But let me ask you this: How can we love if we never risk being hurt?  Could love, itself, even exist without the possibility of pain?  If we know that love requires a deep consideration of another’s well-being, how is that even possible if we’re merely afraid for our own well-being?

I think that’s exactly why 1 John 4:18 rings so true: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear.”  John is making the point that fear is the opposite of love.  It is fear that causes us to flinch when we consider the hurts of our past.  It’s fear, not hate, that enables our pain to descend into bitterness.  And it’s fear that prevents reconciliation and forgiveness.

Forgiveness requires a love that’s willing to set fear aside.  It doesn’t mean we forget the pain we feel – after all, pain is a great teacher.  We should acknowledge it and allow it to have its place, but why dwell in it?  When we dwell in our pain, we allow fear to grow unhindered: We fear that the pain we feel now will never subside, that broken bonds will remain a source of hurt, that we are unworthy of our wounds ever healing… and many more lies.  Do you see how those lies we tell ourselves are completely rooted, not in reality, but in fear?

To set fear aside, though, in pursuit of forgiveness is not only difficult, I think it’s impossible alone.  In fact, I believe we aren’t capable of true forgiveness unless we’ve been on the receiving end of it – if we’ve accepted forgiveness, ourselves.

If you’ve ever needed forgiveness – and I speak from my own experience – you know how frightening it can be.  Yes, I have the power to admit I’ve wronged someone.  Yes, I have the ability to apologize.  But when it comes to being forgiven, I’m completely powerless.  I’m at the mercy of someone else.  I can ask for forgiveness, but I can’t demand it – it must be given to me.

Can you imagine, then, how incredible it would be for God to offer me forgiveness for everything I’ve ever done wrong, before I even asked for it?  Can you imagine how powerful that forgiveness must be, how much love it required, and at what risk He took upon Himself to offer it?

That’s the forgiveness Jesus offers, and indeed, it required His very death – a gruesome death on a cross.

The message of the cross “is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).  God’s forgiveness doesn’t make sense to those who have rejected it, because it required a self-sacrifice that seems foolish.

Thank You, Jesus, that Your love defies the wisdom of man!

Today, I hope you will set fear aside by letting Jesus in.  The God we worship endured more pain than we can imagine, with no guarantee that we’d accept His free gift of forgiveness.  But He took the risk because He loves us.  May we accept His forgiveness, and dare to forgive.