Scripture Reading: 2 Corinthians 2:5-17, Matthew 6:14-15, Colossians 3:12-17
For weeks, I have grappled with these passages in 2 Corinthians. Forgiveness is such a complicated, messy, and integral part of the Christian faith. And if I’m honest, I don’t know if I understand how it works, or whether I’m practicing it well in my life.
When I really let myself think about forgiveness, it touches raw nerves. It calls up painful memories of the times I’ve been hurt, and the times I’ve done the hurting. And that doesn’t feel good. In fact, I’d rather just forget about those parts of my life and move on.
But contrary to popular belief, Jesus does not call us to “forgive and forget.” Christian forgiveness does not require rose-colored glasses or some “spiritual” version of denial. What it does require is faith that if Jesus has carried the weight of our sin, He can also carry the weight of our wounds.
God doesn’t minimize our offenses. He doesn’t wave them away with a magic wand of denial. Nor does He offer empty cop-outs. Instead, He enacted an eternal, and costly, plan to set things right.
The God-man of great sorrow, Jesus, was well acquainted with the evil of this world (Isaiah 53:3), and He refused to ignore it. Instead, He chose to bear the debt on His own back. Knowing that God could not be in the presence of unholy people, Jesus put on our unholiness and gave us His perfect record in return. The sin was heavy, and Jesus carried it, though He didn’t resent us while carrying the cross. He didn’t wait for us to ask Him to do it, either. He forgave us before we even knew we needed forgiveness—because He loved us first.
As impossible as it sometimes feels, we are called to emulate Christ. “For to God we are the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing” (2 Corinthians 2:15). Still, forgiveness is not easy. It does not eliminate pain. Forgiveness is an active, voluntary choice to carry the weight of someone else’s sin. It does not guarantee that we will be reconciled to that person, nor that the relationship will ever be the same. Forgiveness says, “You no longer have to make up for what you did to me. I will carry the cost.”
But I’m not Jesus. So even my ability to forgive is imperfect. One of Jesus’ disciples once asked whether it was fair to forgive someone seven times, and Jesus replied,
“I tell you, not as many as seven… but seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22).
I don’t believe that is a call to be abused over and over again by the same person. In my life, that has meant actively forgiving someone for the same crime, even as I find myself feeling resentful again. When the bitterness returns, I can choose to let that old wound fester, or I can put on the salve of forgiveness. There may still be a scar, but I am no longer keeping the wound open in order to prove how much I’ve been hurt.
When forgiveness is hard, faith reminds me to focus less on what someone did to me, and more on what Jesus did for me. It is in that posture of humility that I can bring my wounds and my sins back to the feet of Jesus. It is there that He reminds me that even when my suffering feels heavy, He is the one who ultimately carries it all.
Claire Gibson is a writer whose work has been featured in publications including The Washington Post and Entrepreneur Magazine among many others. An Army kid who grew up at West Point, New York, Claire is currently growing roots in Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband, Patrick, their son, Sam, and their dog, Winnie. Her debut novel, Beyond the Point, will be published next year.