Forgiveness Is Never Free

I promise I was there for my appointment this morning, but the queue was long.

They called my name, and I wasn’t even inside the door yet because of the crowd. So I waited around for 45 minutes until I noticed that the people who came in after me were being called, and asked the worker coming back from the toilet – he figured out what had happened and let me go next. But still, I lost 45 minutes this morning because they were eager to save 2.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s not much, but I’ve got bigger stories, about bigger injustices. Plenty of them. The times I’ve been blamed for things I didn’t do, the friends who betrayed me, the hard work and sacrifice that was never enough… if you’ve been on earth for a few years, you’ve got stories, too. Probably we could sit and tell them all night, if we wanted to. Maybe we do. It feels good to unload all the injustice of the world on a willing ear. It grants a kind of release, but the trouble with re-opening and bleeding through old wounds is that it doesn’t actually help them heal.

The question is: how do we heal? The injustice was real. We’ve been wronged. We’re justified in our outrage. We’re right to be angry. We’re not getting satisfaction from anyone. Time goes on and our complaint is still ignored. The wrong begins to set like a crooked bone, throwing our whole world permanently out of line. How can we heal from that?

They say it’s easy, one little word: forgive.

But they must not know what that word means. If they did, they would never call it easy. Forgive? There’s nothing more costly than that one little word. When we forgive, we cancel the debt of those who have wronged us, but like any debt, the cancellation doesn’t mean the cost goes away. All it means is that they don’t have to pay it. We do.

Easy? I don’t think so. Revenge would be easier. In a sense, it would also be more just: after all, they’re the ones who made this mess, so it’s only fair if they are made to pay the price for it! I won’t deny that revenge can make some pretty satisfying plot lines for films. But even in the films, it’s clear that revenge is a lot more effective at creating new wounds than it is at healing old ones. In real life, after justice is served in full, the breaking of the one who broke us still isn’t enough to unbreak what was broken in us. The damage is still done, even after payment is extracted. The question still remains: how do we heal?

I say it’s hard, one costly word: forgive.

Forgiveness can never erase the wrong, wish it away, or pretend it didn’t happen. There’s another word for that: fantasy. Instead, forgiveness feels the pain fully, bears the cost willingly, then looks the enemy straight in the eye and offers them the hand of friendship anyway. True, the relationship may have to change if trust or safety is compromised. True, they may reject the chance to reconcile. But that doesn’t make the offer any less real. Even if they refuse restoration, their power over us is broken, because we’ve already accepted the price for their wrong. Now the wound can begin to close, and although it may leave a scar, the bleeding can stop.

And that’s not all. If they are willing to accept it, the healing effects of forgiveness can spill out beyond our own hearts, healing our relationships and healing those who have wronged us. I know this because of the countless times I’ve been the one in the wrong (just this morning, I forgot about my appointment and threw my wife’s schedule out by more than the 45 minutes I lost), and the countless times I’ve been granted forgiveness by others even after I have ignored them, belittled them, used them, lied to them, hurt them, and robbed them of the love and dignity they deserve. I’ve even done all of these things to God Himself, yet last week we celebrated the anniversary of Good Friday, when God Himself paid the ultimate price for all the wrongs I had done, rose again the first Easter when the payment was complete, then stooped to look me in the eye and offer me the hand of friendship anyway. After experiencing such costly forgiveness for my own debt, how can I withhold the same from those who have wronged me? And incredibly, I find that when I give forgiveness to others, I give healing to myself as well.

Yes, forgiveness is expensive. The only thing more expensive, in the long run, is living without it.

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