Forgiveness: a necessary relief

When Cain found himself facing the consequences of the murder of his brother he confessed that he was incapable of bearing his punishment. Like the Hebrew term for guilt and guilt-offering (asham, <v^a**) the idea of bearing (nasa, ac*n*) also designates the relief from bearing the burden of punishment and certain other things. To “forgive” is to “bear” and this is the intent of Christ’s mission: He bore our sins because for us to bear our own sins would be to die without remedy. We have therefore from earliest times an indication that human guilt and punishment find their solution in a divine act.

We are familiar with Alexander Pope’s saying that to forgive is divine, and we think that this means that real forgiveness is patterned after God’s character. Yeshua holds out this pattern of forgiveness from the cross, asking the heavenly Father to forgive the hostile and ignorant. In His instruction on prayer He points to our forgiving one another as a means of assuring of divine acceptance and offer of forgiveness. He says in Matthew 6:14-15 14 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: 15 But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

We must now consider what is meant by forgive in the teaching of the apostles. Again, the teaching of our Lord is vital. In an encounter with Peter who sought to understand the power of forgiveness by asking “Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?” our Lord responded “490 times”. The one who is ready to forgive 490 times shows kingdom citizenship: the kingdom of heaven is like a king who readily forgives huge amounts of debt whereas humans are loath to forgive even a tiny amount (Matt. 18:23-35). This truly a high standard to which one does not come easily or with human willpower or natural capacity.

Apostolic instruction exhorts in this direction with Christ as the example. Consider the following examples which show that forgveness is a display of grace. The term chariz’omai (karIDzoma-ee carivzomai) is what Paul uses for forgive. This term is from the charis root, that is the grace family of New Testament words.

And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. Ephesians 4:32

Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. Colossians 3:13

To what extent is forgiveness a matter of memory? We ask this question because we often say to someone who has violated us “Forget it” and we also hear frequently “Forgive and forget”. If the hurt is sufficiently deep one cannot but remember the violation, and it is in recalling the event or events that we are asked to not hold our fellowman liable. In forgiving we are not at liberty to retell the sin against us, but rather to treat the violator as innocent. In forgiving our fellowman we turn away from thoughts of revenge and any desire to exact punishment, for this is what Christ did for us. In forgiving others we appropriate the character of the heavenly Father, and we should especially seek to dismiss any notion that men have to give us an account of their wrongdoing before we can forgive them. It should be enough that they ask and we set them free. Since divine forgiveness brings about reverence or deep respect it is to be expected that human forgiveness also gives birth to a new respect for the one who readily forgives.

Now there forgiveness with You, that You may be revered. (Psalm 130:4, my translation)