Is There a Misconception of Forgiveness?


The word brings to mind many different emotions, opinions, thoughts and memories.

It is one of the most confusing and messy things of life.

When people talk about forgiveness, I hear them often saying they struggle with it—struggle because the emotions didn’t go away when they “forgave”.

After the death of my husband, my faith wavered. At least I thought it did. The emotions grief rendered were loud and oppressive. It took me months before I had an epiphany. I realized that my emotions were not synonymous with my faith. Those contrary, volatile and slippery emotions grief brought did not need to define my faith. Emotions are just that. Emotions. And emotions have to heal. Sometimes for a while.

Maybe we can apply the same principle to forgiveness. Maybe forgiveness isn’t summed up by the emotions we feel. Maybe the emotions tied to the hurt have to travel the long arduous journey of healing but aren’t actually the substance of forgiveness itself.

Too often we misapply the emotions erupting from the event needing forgiveness and strap them onto the concept of forgiveness and treat them like they’re the same thing.

I beg to differ.

Forgiveness is simply (although not simple) the statement: There is no debt.

This is so contradictory to our human nature. When someone wrongs us, we know they owe us! Owe us an apology. Owe us restitution. Owe us a contrite heart. Owe us the satisfaction of suffering for their wrong. Owe us acknowledgement. (That’s a big one) Owe us. Owe us. Owe us.

At the core of the issue of forgiveness is the fear that…..they will just get away with it if we forgive. The thought of them getting away with what they did heckles our sense of justice. We somehow convince ourselves that if we keep the debt tallied, the person isn’t fully getting away with it. The debt is still activated, tucked away in the bank account of our minds.

Forgiveness is deactivating the debt. It is cancelling it. They owe us nothing!

Jesus often spoke about forgiveness in terms of money. Probably because we can understand money. Our brains wrap around that. When I forgive a monetary debt that means nothing is owed anymore. Nothing. Period. The tally goes to zero.

Now translate that into life situations. Why is it so easy to understand the concept with money, but not so easy with life situations and hurts?
Oh, that’s right, because emotional nerves are all tangled around the decision.

Our emotions don’t necessarily go away. (I mean, come on, let’s get real.) Emotions are still emotions. They are still the wayward and unruly things poking around in our soul. They are things that often have to catch up to the decisions of our mind. Emotions still have to trudge the mountain of healing just like in every other difficult situation in our human existence that stirs them up.

But they aren’t equivalent to the choice of forgiveness, nor of its reality. (Our emotions rarely line up with Biblical truth/reality. So we walk in truth, not emotions.)

Forgiveness, at its core, is a choice to release the debt. Emotions however, cannot be released on command.

And that’s okay. Be okay with letting them heal. Be okay with the time it takes.

But maybe we should stop defining our forgiveness by them…

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