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?