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Chapter 18 - Forgiveness
A relationship between two people (especially one that has grown deeper) can be broken when trust is betrayed. Since God does nothing that requires forgiveness and we always do, our relationship with God is a good place to start to examine the process of forgiveness. There is a two step relationship with God. The first step is for us to become a Christian when we trust in Jesus and receive the judicial forgiveness of all of our sins (past, current, and even future). This establishes a relationship between us and God. The second step is our walk with God. It is in this walk that we can draw nearer (and make our relationship deeper) or drift further (and make our relationship more distant). When we grow in distance from God, we follow the flesh, are drawn to the world, and grow in our sin.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. - 1 John 1:9
While all of our past, current, and future sins have been judicially forgiven, they still keep us from drawing closer to God in our relationship with him. For example, a person might steal $1,000 from a neighbor and be sentenced to 30 days in jail. When he gets out and goes home, he has paid the penalty for his crime, but his relationship with his neighbor is still broken. In a similar way, all our sins have been forgiven, but our relationship remains broken.
God offers a restored relationship after we sin based on our 'confession'. The word confess is made up of two Greek words 'homo' and 'logos' conveying the idea that when we can say the 'same words' that God would about our sins, we bring ourselves into alignment with truth and can receive a restored relationship. God is perpetually ready to forgive the daily sins of ours that build a barrier between him and us.
The idea of human relationship forgiveness was inquired of by Peter in an attempt to show his readiness to extend mercy.
Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven. - Matthew 18:21-22
Two important words in this exchange are 'forgive' (not simply overlook or dismiss) and 'brother' (indicating the degree of relationship). What is often not appreciated is that forgiveness cannot be extended unilaterally. It has to be requested. This requires the person guilty of betrayal to admit it and express regret and a desire to restore the relationship. Given human nature, this is unlikely to happen seven times much less seventy times seven.
Forgiveness between humans can be tricky. The reaction to the hurt of betrayal is often to want to hurt the other person. This creates a sense of betrayal in the mind of the betrayer and so both parties may be waiting for the other to ask for forgiveness.
We can see some of the obtuseness to truth that can occur with a walk distant from God using David as an example. When David was young (David 1.0) he was fleeing for his life from King Saul. He wrote some beautiful Psalms that clearly showed a heart totally devoted to God. When David was older (David 2.0), he had grown so distant from God that he had a man killed so he could take the manís wife for himself. He did not even think he had done anything wrong until God sent Nathan to tell him. David was overcome with sorrow and regret and Psalm 51 was written by him to express that sorrow.
To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came unto him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba. Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest. Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. - Psalm 51:1-7
When David declares that he has only sinned against God, he may still show an ignorance of the broader effect of his actions. We get a picture of someone being a little more aware of the effect of his sin on others with the Prodigal Son.
I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. - Luke 15:18-19
An alcoholic attending AA meetings may only slowly begin to consider the breadth of his actions on others as he goes through the 'steps' to make amends. This is representative of our general lack of awareness or preoccupation with the error of others that can cause us to fail to seek forgiveness. In a situation where two people have hurt each other, seeking forgiveness when the other person only sees your fault and not his own can be difficult. In this situation, if a person can overlook the failure of another to recognize his error, a relationship may not be restored, but repaired enough to function.
The discretion of a man deferreth his anger; and it is his glory to pass over a transgression. - Proverbs 19:11
If we consider the deepest human relationship (marriage) and its most common and deepest injury (adultery), we begin to see the depth of pain the betrayal of trust can inflict. There are people for whom such actions are considered recreational who honestly cannot understand why anyone would be upset. This begins to show the monumental difference in perspective that people can have. This also shows how important it is for a Christian to marry someone who has the same ability to perceive, honor, respect, and value a marital relationship.
Relationship with God is difficult because of our constant failures. Relationship with other Christians is even more difficult because we focus on the flaws of others more than our own. When we apply the cold light of truth to ourselves, we begin to grow in humility. This allows us to begin to tolerate others who, like us, are deeply flawed. It is only as we grow in selfless love that we are even able to tolerate each other and show to the world that of God which can so transform the human heart as to make loving Christian fellowship achievable.
That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. - John 17:21
Forgiveness is needed to repair relationships but tolerance and forbearance are needed to sustain relationships and deepen them. The consumer mind-set so common in todayís society inclines us to be discontent with whatever we are presented with that does not appeal to us. This is destructive to relationships of any kind and so much more so to deeper relationships.
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