*Guest Post by Derek Bareman*
If you have ever seen the movie Lion King, you know that we are a people that love a storyline where justice triumphs, and an Elton John soundtrack but that is a different conversation. This movie involves a lion cub named Simba that loses his dad, Mufasa, because of a plot planned by his evil uncle Scar. Scar wanted the seat at the throne of the animal kingdom. Spoiler alert, at the end of the movie, Scar, is thrown from a cliff in to the fiery forest and ultimately to his death. I can safely assume that every person, age 7 to 70 that has ever seen this movie celebrates the justice that takes place in this moment. Why? Because we are people that love to extend justice. You see, we love to receive mercy but expect justice for others. Living this way makes it hard to truly extend forgiveness to others. Especially to people we don’t think will change their ways. Think about a person that has wronged you. The natural assumption is that they could and probably will do it again. How can we forgive someone that we know could hurt us or hurt others again?
One thing I like to do when I am struggling with an idea is to see if Jesus had anything to say about it. And when it comes to forgiveness, he seems to be a resident expert. Jesus, in a moment in his life where he is being crucified, where he is the most vulnerable, where people are making a mockery of him, he stops and prays, and says these words, about the people hurting him, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing ” (Luke 23:34 NIV). In this moment of pain, Jesus is able to pray for the people causing it. Now, some might see this as weakness, that he is condoning their actions, but he is actually doing the opposite. He is exposing the injustice. One thing I am being reminded of is that forgiveness isn’t weak but it is strong, it is recognizing the offense. Miroslav Volf says it this way, “To forgive means to accuse wrongdoers while at the same time freeing them of charges against them.”
It is not letting them off the hook, it is exposing them for who they are and then saying, “I forgive you.” What it so important about forgiveness is that has a lot less to do with the offender and much more to do with the offended and the power they possess. What is interesting in Jesus’ statement is that he says, forgive them for they do not know what they ARE DOING. Isn’t it interesting that the offenders haven’t stopped and yet Jesus still forgives? In my human condition, I have a hard time forgiving someone that I think will hurt me again, or is continuing to hurt me. Yet Jesus sees it necessary to forgive in the midst of the injustice. Why? I wonder if it is because he knows forgiveness is less about them and more about us. I heard someone once say, forgiveness is setting someone free and finding out it was you. Could it be Jesus is on to something here? He wants us to experience this freedom?
Here are a couple ways for us to find that freedom. These are ideas adapted from an article shared by David Augsburger and the National Association for Christian Recovery.
Recognize Forgiveness is an event and a process. There might be a one-time moment of forgiveness but in most cases, it will take time. We must be willing to recognize the pain won’t go away but saying, “I forgive them” once. Augsburger mentions that many times people rush the process, skipping crucial moments. One thing I have noticed is that as I pray for the person that has wronged me, my heart begins to soften towards them. I think about them less than I did the day before. This is small victory but it reminds me that forgiveness is an event and a process.
Forgiveness does not equal trust. Just because you forgive someone does not mean you need to trust him or her. The relationship can look different going forward. Ausburger argues, “Forgiveness need not imply restoration of relationship.” The larger the offense, the more time it will take for the relationship to be strengthened again. And, in some cases, the relationship might never come back and that is allowable. Trust is a different topic. Forgiveness involves what you can control. I am learning to make this distinction. I have control of forgiveness and this has more to do with me. Trust and the mending of the relationship will take both parties.
Forgiveness is more about me. This means I take control of the power I have in the relationship by forgiving the person who hurt me. I can own this power. I don’t need to be afraid of it. Ausburger reminds us that unchanged power dynamics can be dangerous. It keeps the power in the offender’s hands and that opens us up to more hurt and pain. Owning our power leads us to healthy boundaries and healthy boundaries will save us.
Forgiveness is saying no to pain cycle. Hurting people hurt people. Forgiveness says that the cycle stops with me. I will not use someone else’s pain to cause more pain for them or for others. Revenge brings more pain. Forgiveness brings health to this world.
Forgiveness is giving what we have received. As a follower of Jesus, I recognized that this moment on the cross, where Jesus is forgiving people for their horrendous act, that he is also forgiving me. It was my sin that put him there. He is taking my sin. When I forgive others, I am engaging with the work Jesus did for me. And when I think about what He did for me, it gives me the strength to forgive others.
 Volf, Miroslav. Free of Charge. Zondervan. Grand Rapids. 2006. Pg196.
 Augsburger, David. https://www.nacr.org/abusecenter/forgiveness-and-recovery