I can’t believe what she said
I can’t believe what he did
Oh, don’t they know it’s wrong
Don’t they know it’s wrong
Well maybe there’s something I missed
But how could they treat me like this
It’s wearing out my heart
The way they disregard
This is love, or this is hate
We all have a choice to make
- Losin’, Tenth Avenue North
There are times when forgiveness and reconciliation seem like ‘losing’. But, paradoxically, the Scriptures teach us that unforgiveness leads to bitterness that corrodes our souls and reconciliation leads to wholeness for everyone.
Brothers and sisters, if someone is overtaken in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual, restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so that you also won’t be tempted. Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:1-2)
The Apostle Paul instructs “you who are spiritual” to restore the person overtaken by any wrongdoing “with a gentle spirit”. A mark of spiritual maturity is the ability to seek restoration of someone who has wronged you or others. But also notice the warning; “so that you also won’t be tempted.” The bitterness resulting from unforgiveness tempts us to sin against God and others, and repeat the cycle of destruction. When we “carry on another’s burdens” we demonstrate the way God sacrificially reconciled to us, and in doing so we “fulfill the law of Christ.”
We live in a world of great injustice. The ‘law of Christ’ fights for justice, while still seeking mercy and reconciliation. tweet
But what does this actually look like? One of the best examples occured in the 1990’s in South Africa:
The Afrikaners oppressed the indigenous South African populous for centuries, exploiting their land and labor while denying their dignity. The Afrikaners, a white ethnic group descended from the Dutch settlers, executed a brutal form of racism and oppression known as apartheid for a half-century. Those who sought justice, like Nelson Mandela, were persecuted. The South African government imprisoned him for 27 years. Finally, in 1991, the activists’ efforts bore fruit. International pressure and boycotts pressured the South African government to release Mandela and end apartheid. South Africans, previously discriminated against, finally became full and free citizens in their nation. Mandela was elected president. What would he and his African National Congress do with their new power? Afrikaners feared retaliation. Victims of their regime wanted revenge. The world watched.
Mandela and his leadership did something no one expected. They launched a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The commission required both Afrikaners and indigenous black South African activists who were responsible for violence and criminal acts, to tell the truth about their actions. The Commission also invited victims to share their stories of loss, and respond to amnesty requests by the guilty parties. South Africa began a healing process and moved into a new era of prosperity under leadership who sought reconciliation instead of revenge. Their story is a model of how to move on when forgiveness is hard.
“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” – Nelson Mandela
Take these six steps to experience forgiveness and wholeness in your life:
- Admit something happened.
Reconciliation is not acting like something didn’t happen. We often desire to move away from the tension when confronting a painful conflict. But that’s not true restoration. tweet
The power of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is that it didn’t pretend that egregious human rights violations had not occurred. The decision was made to insist that all would acknowledge how those in their nation had suffered. We cannot forgive until we admit we have been sinned against.
- Forgive the act and the consequences of the act done against you.
Often the consequences of the act done against us are far worse than the act of sin itself. The rippling effects of a father’s absence, or words that still ring in your ears long after an insult had been hurled, often linger. Forgiving not only the teasing one experienced as a child, but the low self-esteem, and difficulties that sprung up in life as a result of the teasing, is significant and challenging work that frees us from the bondage of bitterness, and heals our wounds. When we allow such wounds to define us, it leads to a cycle of making bad choices—creating more guilt, anger, resentment, etc.
A tremendous amount of unjust actions had been perpetrated by the Afrikaners. The South Africans who suffered from the injustice chose to emphasize truth and reconciliation over vengeance and the entire nation avoided a cycle of violence and turmoil.
- Lament: Tell God what happened to you.
Take these lists before God. Pray over them. Cry over them. It is not only okay to grieve the losses we’ve experienced: it’s healthy. Many of us need to rediscover the process of lamenting. It is crying out to God over our circumstances while still trusting God with them. King David demonstrates the power of lament in the Psalms.
I cry aloud to the Lord;
I plead aloud to the Lord for mercy.
I pour out my complaint before him;
I reveal my trouble to him.
Although my spirit is weak within me,
you know my way.
Along this path I travel
they have hidden a trap for me. (Psalms 142:1-3)
- Forgive the offender for YOUR benefit
Forgiving the offender is first and foremost for your benefit. This is a vertical transaction between you and God, and has nothing to do with whether or not the person admits guilt.
The author of Hebrews writes that if we can’t forgive each other, we won’t see God.
Work at getting along with each other and with God. Otherwise you’ll never get
so much as a glimpse of God. Make sure no one gets left out of God’s
generosity. Keep a sharp eye out for weeds of bitter discontent. A thistle or two gone to seed can ruin a whole garden in no time. (Hebrews 12:14-17)
”Unforgiveness is the poison we drink hoping that someone else dies.” – Ken Sande
We release the offense, so we don’t judge the person and harbor bitterness. We place the next step into God’s hands and choose to move forward in the relationship:
It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. (Deuteronomy 32:35)
- Forgive the offender when they repent, for their sake.
What happens when someone confesses to us is a horizontal transaction. Sometimes the offender will approach us and ask forgiveness and desire reconciliation. If we have already forgiven them before God, we can wait for them to ask forgiveness. It won’t affect how we move forward in life. You have already forgiven the offender before God—you have released them to God. When we respond to their repentance with our forgiveness, it allows us to become more like Jesus. It also helps the other person experience the gospel that we can find reconciliation with God and others in spite of our brokenness.
- Seek Reconciliation, Not Just Conflict Resolution
Reconciliation – we address and resolve the issue that caused the offense. Pursuing reconciliation builds trust over time with consistency of behavior. True forgiveness always seeks reconciliation. Jesus paid with His life to bring us reconciliation. This is sacrificial ground. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was so powerful because it gave space for the offended and the offender to move toward reconciliation, not just retribution. Reconciliation cannot occur without truth, and truth also requires reconciliation.
- List the act of sin done against you.
- List the rippling effect of consequences.
- Lament (if you haven’t already) the offense.
- Forgive and take the necessary steps of reconciliation.
Suggested Worship Meditation: Travis Greene, Intentional