You're probably still not sold on the Christian definition of forgiveness, which does not leave anyone forsaken. That's okay; the world's concept is pretty powerful and deeply ingrained in us, and you've probably caricaturized it in your head with the worst-possible-scenario, which requires you walking boldly up to someone who has hurt you severely and basically inviting them to do it again. That's not at all what I said - or what Christ said - but for today, we're just going to move on.
Because if you're struggling with what Christian forgiveness is, perhaps a good place to start is with what Christian forgiveness is not.
Christian forgiveness is not going out of your way to tell someone else that you've forgiven a third party who is not there. In fact, we should spent the majority of our time talking about our own forgiven-ness than any forgiveness we have tried ourselves to offer; that is the proper Christian witness. It testifies to the goodness of God, rather to any perceived goodness we might offer - or perceived wrongness of another.
That's what happens, by the way. Every time you talk about someone you've "forgiven," you throw a spotlight on everything you believe that person has done wrong. With the same breath that someone else is thinking you must be the bigger person and someone to look up to, they cannot help but think that the other person - the one who needed your righteous, amazing forgiveness - is someone to look down on.
This is what we're trying to avoid. Because if you cause someone to look down on someone else, even if you claim to have forgiven them, your actions indicate that you have not. You still want to throw them under the bus. You still want to make yourself look better than them. You still want to make sure that everyone knows that that other person did something wrong.
There's no real forgiveness there.
It's basically gossip, which is something that we in the church seem to have mastered. We'll call it "Christian gossip," even though we have to be clear in saying that there ought to be no such thing.
But we do it. We gossip all the time, couching it in Christian-sounding language so that we can say that we didn't mean to gossip; we were just doing what, uhm, Christ would want us to do.
You can hear this really prominently when we talk about the prayer list. Overwhelmingly, the conversations that start when we talk about the prayer list are not prayer-full conversations; they are gossip. Did you hear about so-and-so? Can you believe that so-and-so is dealing with ____? Gosh, I just can't imagine ever having to live so-and-so's life. And on and on and on we go, thinking that because we're talking about the prayer list, we're okay. It can't be gossip if everyone knows about it, right?
But it is. Gossip is this thing we do where we find it fun to throw around details that aren't ours to share. Gossip happens every time we take joy in talking about someone who we have placed lower than us based on some quantification or qualification that we have made important. And it always involves that - making someone else lower than us.
Notice how few of our conversations start earnestly about prayerfulness, even around the prayer list. Conversations do not typically start with, I have been praying every day for so-and-so. I really hope with all my heart that God brings His goodness into her life in a powerful and profound way.
Those ought to be our conversations, but they're too often not. Those would be the conversations of truly Christian persons, of good brothers and sisters. It has at its heart two things: firm belief in the goodness of God and honest desire for that goodness in the life of another. Notice what it's lacking: it has no indication at all of the status of the other as anything other than a child of God. It has no details of the trouble or trial. It is not meant to make us feel better about ourselves, but to feel confident about our God. This is the way that Christians ought to talk.
So, too, about forgiveness.
And I think I've hinted a few paragraphs ago at a great way to start to change our dialogue here. Simply put, we should never talk about the forgiveness that we have offered anyone else without first, foremost, and most emphatically talking about the forgiveness God has given us. I just find that the more I talk about the goodness of God, the harder it is to try to shift focus to my own goodness. Or whatever perceived measure of it I might think I have.
So there's a good place to start, if you're looking for one.
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