I was cut off the other day in traffic. I had to hit my brakes to stop from hitting the guy in front of me. He didn’t even notice and as I went around him, I looked over and he was looking down at his cell phone. I was annoyed to say the least but within a few minutes, I completely forgot about it.
It’s easy to forgive those minor types of infractions. Especially when you don’t know the person from Adam. You can blow it off and forget all about it in minutes. But when a father causes immense hurt and pain, forgiveness is quite possibly the most impossible thing in the world.
Dads Aren’t Perfect
Throughout this series, I’ve identified the 3 key foundations of a father. The constant theme throughout the series is that nearly all of us had fathers who fell short in one or more of these areas. I talked about what God originally intended us to receive through our earthly fathers and how most, if not all of us, did not receive everything we should have.
Now that we understand what we didn’t receive, what are we supposed to do about it?
Why Forgiveness Is The Answer
There’s a quote that I’ve heard but have never been able to trace the origin:
“Not forgiving someone is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”
Forgiving our father is just as much about our own emotional health and well-being as it is for the father who hurt us. Living a lifetime with unforgiveness is like having a whole in your heart that is never filled. Forgiveness gives us the opportunity to fill the emptiness and find healing.
What I’ve learned from my own journey is that most people don’t understand what true forgiveness looks like.
What Forgiveness Isn’t
Before I talk about what forgiveness is, let me say a few things that it definitely is not:
1. Forgiveness Isn’t Minimizing
We try to minimize sin as a coping mechanism. Most of us know that we are called to forgive because of what we’ve been forgiven (Eph. 4:32). However when the pain is so deep, there is no way to do it in our own strength.
How can we forgive a father who physically and verbally abused us? How are can we forgive a father who sexually abused us?
And yet we feel pressured (sometimes flippantly) to “just forgive”. We hear sermons and teachings and read the Bible and feel a conviction in our hearts. But more powerful than the conviction to forgive, we feel conflict in our hearts because there is no human way possible to forgive some deplorable offenses.
True forgiveness is does not minimize the offense. It faces up to the full, unadulterated reality of what transpired and the result of how it affects our heart. Ultimately if we minimize it, we can enable it.
2. Forgiveness Isn’t Excusing
Another coping mechanism we use is to make excuses. “We live in a broken world with broken people,” we may tell ourselves.
It is true that “hurt people hurt people”, but that doesn’t ever make it okay.
When we excuse someone, we don’t allow them to own their offense. Excusing offenses is another way we enable people to continue in that pattern.
True forgiveness does not make excuses for others.
3. Forgiveness Isn’t A Free Pass
It’s easy to go to the opposite end of the spectrum when we read in Romans 8, “there is no condemnation (i.e. punishment) for those who are in Christ”. It’s true that we don’t live in a reality of punishment in Christ but we do live in a reality of consequence.
Forgiveness doesn’t punish but it doesn’t remove consequences either. Everyone is responsible for the decisions they make and the consequences that come from it.
In the book “Culture of Honor,” Danny Silk says that people are free to make as big of a mess as they are willing to clean up. This neither approves of the mess nor relinquishes responsibility.
What Forgiveness Is
Forgiveness is a mini-trial that we perform with others. It’s a process of making an opening argument, presenting the evidence, then redering a verdict of not guilty.
The first element of forgiveness is acknowledging that a wrong has taken place. It’s the process of confronting someone with the consequences of their actions. This includes both what was done and how it made you feel. The full weight of the infraction needs to be addressed.
Forgiveness is only authentic when there is a clear understanding of the offense.
If we don’t fully acknowledge the wrong and what has happened to us as a result, we cannot fully render a verdict either way.
Forgiveness is stating an offense, showing the offender what they deserve, and then giving them the opposite. But you can only fully forgive when the wrong has been fully acknowledged. This is ideally acknowledged to the offender but minimally acknowledged in your own heart.
Forgiveness is supernatural.
There is no way we can muster up the strength to forgive on our own. Our own desire for justice is so great that it prevents us from doing it ourselves. True forgiveness can only be accomplished in God’s strength by the power of the Holy Spirit in us.
My Own Story
Last week I shared the story of forgiving my father for the first time. I thought I understood forgiveness prior to that day. What I realized in retrospect is that I had never fully acknowledged the hurt and pain out loud. I never talked to anybody about what I was feeling as a result of my father not being in my life.
I was living in a shadow of forgiveness but not really walking in the fullness of it. It wasn’t until my dad came to me and asked me to share my heart that I fully was able to deal with my pain.
While there were elements of my own issues that were painful and derailed me for much of my life, I’m thankful for the redemption that has come.
None of us have a perfect father. None of us will be the perfect father. But when we understand what we lacked, we can address it in a healthy way.
When we forgive our earthly fathers for any offense, it removes the blockage. When the unforgiveness is removed, our Heavenly Father can then give us what He intended.
God perfectly provides. He provides for our needs, He provides opportunities for us to flourish and He provides boundaries for us to find freedom within.
God perfectly protects. He keeps us safe from harm, He establishes a healthy respect for authority and He encourages to live life to the fullest and allows us to take risks.
God perfectly establishes our identity. He shows us what a man looks like, what a husband looks like and what it means to be a son and a daughter.
There is no dysfunction He cannot heal. Nothing you’ve ever experienced you disqualifies you from experiencing God as Father. Forgiveness is the key to freedom. Forgiveness removes the blockage and frees us to receive everything that the Father meant for us.
Do you have a story of forgiveness you’d like to share? Do you have difficulty forgiving?