The lost art of forgiveness

“I forgive you.”

That’s not an expression I hear a lot. To be honest, it’s not an expression I even say a lot.

It’s a matter of our DNA. I don’t mean the deoxyribonucleic acid molecule that encodes our genetic instructions, but our default setting, our hardwiring, our modus operandi. It’s what we naturally expect, and perhaps more importantly, what we’ve trained others to expect from us. 

When our enemies have been trained to expect demonstrations, legal battles, and political maneuvering it’s apparent that we haven’t cultivated a culture of forgiveness.

Sure, we tell our kids, “Son, forgive your sister for breaking your toy.”  And we’ve all been involved in, or heard of, those rare life-changing moments when one reaches the end of their rope, begs forgiveness for devastating wrongs, and receives forgiveness amidst a fountain of tears.

But day-to-day forgiveness? Forgiveness as a way of life? Habitual, reflexive, knee-jerk forgiveness extended to our loved ones, our enemies, our acquaintances and even the strangers on the road? That’s an artform we’ve simply forgotten how to practice. We’re far more likely to complain about an absentminded server than forgive the slight of an empty glass.

Many people immediately protest, calmly explaining that the shortage of “I forgive you’s” is simply a consequence of the extinction of “I’m sorry’s.” And this is definitely a plausible, rational defense. The only problem with it is that the gospel is neither plausible or rational.

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” So said the Author of Life as life bled out of him.

“Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” So said Stephen as they crushed in his skull with stones.

And yet we often seem more inclined to pick up the stones thrown our way and hurl them back with equal anger, velocity, and self-righteousness. But what would it look like to acknowledge where we’ve been wronged, and yet refuse our right to hit back?

What would it look like to forgive the opposing politician instead of demonizing him or her within our sphere of influence? What would it look like to forgive media icons for degrading our culture instead of blaming them for our children’s’ failures? What would it look like to forgive the disgraced athlete instead of mocking their inflated achievements? What would it look like to forgive all who infringe on our rights instead of furiously battling to ensure that our way of life remain unchanged?

What would it look like to forgive rather than fight? The church will not survive the screaming silence of unforgiveness. We must never forget that in faith, as in politics, “there is no future without forgiveness.” Desmond Tutu.


About Tim Owens

I'm a husband, father, and Christ follower. I also live in Albany, NY, where I work as a pastor.
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