How Do You Know If You’ve Really Forgiven Someone?

Erik Cooper —  March 9, 2011 — 8 Comments

How do you know if you’ve really forgiven someone?

That was the question being discussed by a group of pastors last Wednesday as I sat down at the table. It stopped me cold. Sent out a search party to explore the dark ugly caverns of my soul. It made me a little uncomfortable.

In fact, I found the question itself so offensive that I immediately asked for an apology. (OK, not true. But that would have been awesome, right?).

Forgiveness is a fun word. We throw it around in church circles like a catchy one-liner from a Charlie Sheen interview. But do I really know what it means? Do I really live it out? How do I know if I’ve actually forgiven?

One of my new pastor-friends (Pastor-Friends? Sounds like we should have our own comic book and Fortress of Solitude) shared the simplest answer that has stuck with me all week:

“Forgiveness is a transaction. Someone owes you a debt and you choose not to make them pay you for it.”

A transaction? Yep, a transaction. The cancellation of a debt.

Not a warm fuzzy feeling.

Not the re-establishment of trust.

Not an agreement that everything returns to the way it was.

Not a fake smile.

Not an automatic requirement to risk your vulnerability with that person again.

Not pretending it never happened.

A choice. A simple transaction. That person no longer owes me. I’m no longer holding them responsible to pay for my pain. The debt no longer requires recompense. At least not to me.

You see, forgiveness doesn’t mean the offender gets off like an A-list celebrity on a DUI charge. It just means I’m no longer the one demanding the payment.

“Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.” -Romans 12:19 MSG

We hand God the collection papers (just like we handed him our own need for forgiveness). He’s much more gracious. And much more just.

What do you think? How do you know if you’ve really forgiven someone? Is there someone whose debt you need to cancel?

8 responses to How Do You Know If You’ve Really Forgiven Someone?

  1. Heard it said: You know you’ve forgiven someone when they can pass through your mind without leaving muddy footprints.

  2. Great post.

    Forgiveness is one of the weighty things we are privileged to wrestle with. It is a good indicator of our growth in God, however that “growth” is always seeded in the soil of pain. (Growing pains are for the spiritual too.)

    Forgiveness, like love (agape), does not come easy for me. I don’t think they are supposed to. They serve as constant reminders that I fall short and point me to my dependence on God’s grace. Wrapped in Him, I move past the pain and lean to forgive. What I can not do in my own strength is accomplished in Him, when I surrender… die to self. (Dead men feel no pain.)

    So how do I know if I have forgiven that person?

    If when that person comes to mind and there is resentment or they make me feel bad, then I know that the “old self” wants to live again. I need to have some serious Face Time with the Father. I need to crucify the flesh… no pity parties, no revenge and no more dwelling on it (Colossians 3:2 comes to mind.) If I can not forgive them the little, how can I seriously expect the Lord to forgive me of my much? I have to take them with me to the Throne Room. I ask God to forgive me and “honestly” bless them, bring them into the Family. For me, it has to be a work of grace. I need to bring myself to the point were I don’t even want God to “collect for me” … I don’t need vicarious revenge. I need all my focus on God. I like what Abraham said to God, “shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?”

    Forgiveness, they say, is the smell a rose gives once it has been crushed. I like to think of it as looking a little more like Christ and a little less like me.

  3. Natalie (Phillips) Corvin March 10, 2011 at 10:38 pm

    This is so true! I’ve actually had to go through the act of forgiveness when I didn’t feel it. Additionally, I believe it’s important to forgive even if the person has passed away and it’s impossible to forgive them to their face. After all forgiveness is for the benefit of the forgiver more than the forgiven.

    Thanks for another great post Erik!

    • Great point on those who have passed away Natalie. Forgiveness is an individual decision, the cancellation of a debt. That can take place even if reconciliation of the relationship here on earth is impossible.

      Thanks for sharing your insights Natalie.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. Moron (Oops, I Mean More On) Forgiveness | Beyond The Risk - Erik Cooper - March 16, 2011

    […] Last week, we talked about the transactional aspect of forgiveness. The canceling of a debt. But in the midst of those soul-searching conversations, I realized I may have again mistakenly veered north on I-55. I thought forgiveness was synonymous with clearing the air. Re-establishing the relationship. Becoming Facebook buddies. […]

  2. How Do You Live With Unresolved Tension? | Beyond The Risk - Erik Cooper - August 3, 2011

    […] I’m not talking about refusing to forgive. […]

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