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Day 7: What Forgiveness Is

Matthew 5:7; Luke 6:36

Yesterday we saw that forgiveness is not reestablishing trust or reconciling with another person, nor is it a one-time event but rather a process. Today we will use a familiar metaphor to illustrate that excusing or minimizing what someone has done prevents us from forgiving them.

When a person hurts us, it is very much like they write us a legally binding IOU for the cost of their sin. Many people collect IOUs, holding them up in front of their faces, looking at their entire world through the IOUs. All of life becomes associated with how they’ve been wronged, causing them to project anger and disappointment onto others who had nothing to do with the offense. They are often seen as wounded malcontents. Others stuff the IOUs into their pockets and pretend they weren’t hurt. The weight of these hidden debts makes them emotionally distant. Obsessing over and hiding IOUs are common responses, but not healthy ones.

Forgiveness occurs when we closely examine the IOU, paying special attention to its value, being honest with ourselves about how our heart, mind, and ability to relate to others has been impacted and assessing all the ways we’ve been affected. Once we deeply understand the value of the IOU, we then choose to tear it up, nullifying what is owed to us, cancelling the debt. The only time an accounts receivable department writes off an IOU is when they are convinced it can never be repaid. It’s critical to understand that a person who sins against us and owes us better can never repay the debt. That person may be nice to us the rest of our lives and ask for forgiveness, but he or she cannot go back and undo what was done or repair the hurt. So we are bound to that person, that offense, that wound, and that unpaid IOU until we choose to tear it up.

And the entire amount must be pardoned. Minimizing or excusing what was done causes us to cancel only a portion of the debt. We must be aware and honest with ourselves about what is owed, which requires courage to enter back into our pain, to name the offense and hurt, and to evaluate what was taken and inflicted. With mild offenses, this may happen quickly and without conscious thought. But greater offenses require intention and diligence; one reason why forgiveness is a process. Often people tell me, “I thought I forgave that person, but now I’m not sure.” You may have forgiven someone for the full value of the IOU as you understood it at the time, but later discover additional injury that must be forgiven or something happens to trigger the old hurts and you need to forgive again for the fresh pain you’re experiencing.

Closing Exercise

Ask God to show you if there is someone you need to more fully forgive. If appropriate, share with your group anything God reveals and ask them to pray with you for God to give you strength to forgive.