What Does Forgiveness of Others Look Like? Must I Forgive and Forget?

We all seem to know what forgiveness looks like: “forgive and forget.” Or “live as if the offence never actually happened.” But is this realistic? For “wee sins” perhaps but there are some offences that can never be forgotten, there are some sins it would be imprudent to ignore. We are not computers with hard drives that be simply erased, we are humans. What strikes us, sticks with us. And what if you are an employer giving a break to a convicted serial thief? To forgive a prior theft is one thing, to make it easy to steal again is quite another. Offences have consequences and the breaking of trust is often the first. If forgiveness looks neither like forgetfulness, nor restored trust, what does it look like?

When Jesus washes the feet of the disciples, he gives us, not just an example of what a servant looks like, but also what forgiveness looks like. Consider that as Jesus washes the disciples’ feet, he knows that all twelve of these, his closest companions, will abandon him, that Peter will deny him, and that Judas will betray him. Yet Jesus,

Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table,a took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. John 13:1b-5 NRSV

He loved them to the end! Though knowing that they will soon fail Him, He loved them. Though knowing the pain that will soon be his, he served them as a slave would. This is what forgiveness looks like; love and service. When we tell ourselves we must forget an offence, we set ourselves up for failure. When we tell ourselves that an offence must carry no consequence, we set ourselves up for disappointment. Yet we can love and serve the offender knowing and remembering full well the pain that is ours. We can love and serve the offender without a restoration of trust. Is there someone in your life you need to forgive? If so, let us pick up our cross and in attitudes and acts of love and service follow the One who has forgiven us. “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” Mark 10:45 NRSV.

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