I’ve been thinking about forgiveness lately, and wondering if it’s a little bit like hope, which we discussed on this blog back in December. In December we discussed whether we could truly understand hope without knowing hopelessness. Similarly, forgiveness is a complex and difficult concept that cannot be understood without a betrayal, a hurt, a wrongdoing that creates a need for forgiveness.
I’m not sure if forgiveness must be continually practiced in order to be understood, but Jesus does command Peter (and us) in the New Testament to forgive an individual person 70 times 7 times. Whether this is for our sake or the other person’s, we probably can’t be entirely sure, but I suspect it’s for our own sake. Sure, if we manage one giant act of forgiveness after a huge betrayal, we might in that instance realize the power and joy and peace of forgiveness, and all its other many and varying complexities, and never need to bother with it again. The deeper we have been hurt, after all, the greater our opportunity to understand the depth of the complexity of forgiveness.
That isn’t usually how life works. Usually we are experts in righteous indignation, in sanctimony, in holy offense. Instead of being quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, as James commands us, we are often slow to be gracious, and slow to forgive. Quick to judge, quick to take umbrage. Slow to offer a benefit of the doubt. Slow to consider another perspective.
And are these usually instances of justified hurt? Are they usually grand stories of deception and betrayal and lies spun so thick we can’t even reach through to find the initial first thread of truth? No. Usually it’s the minor inconveniences or annoyances that we tell ourselves are enormous personal injustices. Like someone cutting us off in traffic, or having too many groceries in front of us in line, or telling us they can’t attend our party when we know (read: think) they’re just sitting at home.
It’s not usually of a magnitude that would require a great deal of effort on the part of the wronged person to forgive, except for that fact that it is enormously difficult to step outside our own self-centered worlds and consider others. But, in the everyday injustices and annoyances we encounter in our lives, it is important to practice forgiveness because an interesting quality of forgiveness is that it is very powerful no matter how small the sin. After all, as we can infer from Jesus’s conversation with Peter, the act of forgiving is not always for the forgiven. It’s more often for the forgiver.