Dr. John B. MacDonald
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Forgiveness is at or near the heart of God.

It is difficult to name a subject more important to the life of Christians. And yet, it is troubling to see how poorly followers of Jesus understand and practice forgiveness.

As a synopsis for this series, “Reclaiming Forgiveness,” here are five habits of highly forgiving people.

 

1.       Relational

Highly forgiving people value relationships.

God, by his nature, is relational: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He created us as relational creatures.

As the process for rebuilding broken or damaged relationships, forgiveness is relational. It is not about ‘me’; it is about ‘us’.

Forgiveness is consistent with the nature and desires of God, and the design of our humanity.

Here is a post on the value of relationships for forgiving people:

 

2.       Discernment

Discernment, or wisdom, is practiced by highly forgiving people in at least three areas.

First, discernment is needed to determine whether there has been a relational breaking point.

Such a breaking point is not any slight I may imagine, or an accidental bumping on a crowed bus, or a dislike of a personal mannerism. These are all matters that call for grace, mercy, patience, and love – they do not require forgiveness.

Perceptions and accidents can be identified, and escalation avoided, by asking questions such as “What did you mean by that?”

A relational breaking point is usually intentional and significant.

Second, discernment is required to deal with an offending person. 

How should you respond? Should you overlook the offence? Should you correct the offender, and if so, how?

The Book of Proverbs has a wealth of wisdom for responding appropriately (e.g., 15:1, 23, 28; 16:1; 18:13; 19:11; 26:4-5):

  • “it is [a person’s] glory to overlook an offense” (19:11);
  • “do not answer a fool according to his folly …” (26:4); and
  • “answer a fool according to his folly …” (26:5).

Third, discernment is essential to move forward in the process of forgiveness.

Here are three posts that provide insights into the habit of discernment:

 

3.       Love

Love is the indispensable key to forgiveness. Here are three elements to build into your understanding and practice of love.

First, do not confuse love and forgiveness.

Love is to be practiced unilaterally, and unconditionally. It is not subject to the other person responding, recognizing, or valuing your love toward him or her. Such is the love of God.

Forgiveness is bi-lateral, and conditional. The rebuilding of relationship cannot happen without both parties dealing with what is broken or damaged.

Second, love is therapeutic.

A person can be injured, abused, and alienated by the action of another. Even when forgiveness does not take place, the love of God for that injured person, and the love of that person for the offender, have the healing properties necessary for the injured person.

Third, love is to be the governing posture toward the offender.

As Jesus taught, we love our ‘enemies’ by praying for them (attitude), speaking well of them (words), doing good for them (actions) (Luke 6:27-36).

Love is the invitation extended for the offender to enter the process of forgiveness.

Here are three posts on this ‘habit’ of love:

 

4.       Repentance

This is perhaps the most surprising of the habits.

Repentance is about changing. Changing in our minds, emotions, and wills – and all that flows from that.

I like what Christine Smith writes in "Repentance: Hope for the World":

Repentance allows the whole of creation to have another chance. The act of true repentance holds out the possibility, maybe even the promise, that individuals and whole communities can be renewed, can mend what we have broken, can find what appeared to be completely lost, can build a bridge to that which seems permanently severed, can re-member and restore the dismembered garment of shared life.

Glen Stassen says the Christian life is a life of repentance – a life of change.

For the offenders, we invite change. They need to change, to repent, of what broke the relationships.

The offended person also needs repentance. In this view, repentance is not a nasty, negative concept to be buried out of sight. It is a life-giving gift of change for renewal, growth, and promise that you need to embrace in all of life.

Repentance is your acknowledgement that you have more to learn, more to grow, more to be. It is opposed to a life of self-satisfaction, self-justification, and self-centeredness.

Here are two posts on repentance that you will find helpful:

 

5.       Reconciliation

Last, but not least, is reconciliation. With this we have circled back to the first habit, which is relational.

Relational is the habit that values relationship; reconciliation is the habit that re-activates relationship. 

Highly forgiving people have the habit of never losing sight of the desired goal of the process of forgiveness: reconciliation.

Reconciliation is the change of relationship from estrangement, even hostility, to harmony and peace between two parties.

Here are two posts where this habit is explored:

 

 Conclusion

This concludes the series, “Reclaiming Forgiveness.”

For those who joined us part way through, or want to go through the series again, the first post in the series is “Reclaiming Forgiveness.”

In the meantime, let me know: 

  • How has this series helped you?
  • What questions did it answer for you?
  • What questions remain unanswered for you?
  • How are you building these five habits into your life?

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Photo credit: Rembrandt's The Return of the Prodigal Son (O Retorno do Filho Pródigo, pintura de Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn ca. 1669)

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