I have these rules for life. Sometimes rules can be lengthy, spelling out all the “ifs, ands, or buts” needed for a rule to be proper implemention. When does this rule apply? Who does it apply to? What are the exceptions to the rule? This Dale’s Rule for Life is short; as in only one word short – forgive.
I seriously considered leaving this article with only the first paragraph. Making it not only the shortest rule but also the shortest article. Letting the silence and the lack of explanation speak volumes about this simple yet powerful rule. So I grant you an option. Stop here and let the unadorned rule speak or continue on for a bit of explanation and encouragement.
We all know that forgiveness is powerful and dreadfully needed. However, forgiveness is hard. It fights against our desires for revenge, retribution, comeuppance, and justice. Yet this rule has no boundaries. The infinite silence around “forgive” includes everyone, every time, every place, and every offense. There are no exceptions. Just forgive.
The moment we think or utter the words “I can never forgive…” we have wrapped ourselves in strong chain. Yes, the offense, loss, and wounds are real. The pain we feel because of what someone else did is genuine. Perhaps we’d like nothing better than to never ever see that person again. I get that. I’ve felt that way too. But here’s the thing, unforgiveness keeps the pain alive. Leaving and open sore that refuses to heal. Forgiveness, on the other hand, is the first step towards healing and release from our chains.
Christ-followers have no other option. For us, forgiveness is a command. For instance, Jesus said, “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions.” (Mark 11:25, NASB95) There are many such encouragements, challenges, and commands concerning forgiveness in the Bible. Our very faith is built on God’s forgiveness of our sins and offenses through the blood of Jesus. When Christ-followers fail to forgive they are like the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18:21-35. But the power of forgiveness is not limited to believers in Christ. Everyone can forgive, but Christians should be quicker to forgive since we’ve experienced God’s forgiveness.
There is also a misunderstanding which needs to be cleared up. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting what someone has done, it means letting them off the hook for it. Forgiveness means releasing the debt we feel someone owes us. Wisdom may suggest we avoid being wounded by them again. Although love may suggest we take the risk anyway and throw away the record of their wrong. Forgiveness doesn’t require that we forget, but love may require it.
The infinite silence around “forgive” also includes ourselves. We are often the hardest person to forgive. Our regrets shout at us. Our mistakes haunt our dreams and fuel our fears. We can even hold ourselves hostage to guilt and shame which God never placed on us. The promise of God is plain, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9, NASB95) If God has forgiven us, which He promises and fulfills in Christ, then we have no right to hold ourselves hostage to our own unforgiveness.
Much in our world is bent, designed, or purposed for destruction. Everything from words to the most powerful bombs rip and tear at the fabric of life. This destruction leaves in its wake broken dreams, broken hearts, broken families, broken promises, broken worlds. Forgiveness is the exact opposite. It stops the never-ending cycle of pain for pain and begins the greater work of restoration. But someone has to be to first to forgive even if the cost is great. So, forgive.