While some hardhearted people might disagree, most of us would agree that it would be difficult to overstate the importance of forgiveness. And its importance includes both being forgiven as well us forgiving.
I’ve been thinking about what I call “the four lines of forgiveness” for several weeks now, and a news report I just saw on TV reinforced both my premise that we cannot overstate the importance of forgiveness and that there are four lines of it.
The news report was about the trial of a police officer who was going home to her apartment and got on the wrong floor. She entered the wrong apartment, thinking it was hers, and shot and killed the resident thinking he was an intruder. She was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
What was so powerful to me about the news report was the words of the victim’s younger brother on the witness stand speaking to the woman who had killed him. He said he forgave her, loved her, and hoped the best for her while she was in prison. He then asked the judge if he could hug her, got the judge’s permission, and the two embraced. It was a powerful and moving demonstration to see. (To forgive someone does not mean we must put ourselves in a place or position to be hurt or wronged again by the person we are forgiving.)
One line of forgiveness that can be challenging and is beautiful is our forgiveness of others. I have no idea if the younger brother’s words to his older brother’s killer were challenging, but I do know they were beautiful. I also know in my own life, and probably in yours as well, that forgiving others can be challenging. But the reality is that God calls us to forgive others and forgiving them is good for us.
A second line of forgiveness is others forgiving us. I’m confident every person who reads this post has needed forgiveness from others. It is not always offered, of course, but often it is. In my experience admitting whatever it was that you did or said that needs forgiving, and asking for it, goes a long way in receiving it. Unfortunately, if forgiveness is not granted, we have to leave it there.
A third line of forgiveness is God forgiving us. We should never take God’s forgiveness for granted, but the Bible is clear that God wants to forgive us. That’s what the coming, life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is all about. All of us, without exception, need God’s forgiveness. And while it is not necessarily automatic, because of his great love for us God does forgive us when we ask for it.
A fourth line of forgiveness is forgiving ourselves. We probably don’t think or talk as much about this line as we do the others, but for many of us, this is a need. We’ve all heard people say something along the lines of “I’ll never be able to forgive myself!” Certainly no one should be cavalier or flippant about forgiving themselves. Yet, my sense is we do need to forgive ourselves, not be totally defeated by our failures, and move forward rejoicing in God’s forgiveness in Jesus with a commitment and resolve to do better.
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