My father passed away twelve years ago this month. My relationship with him—both living and in the time since his death—has proved a most rigorous lesson in forgiveness.
Just as grief comes in waves, unforgiveness knocks us down unexpectedly and repeatedly. Like a wave we think we’ve mastered, we picture ourselves as masters at forgiveness—time to move on. But then the under-toe pulls at us, unaware. Stumbling forward and backward, we gasp for air, fearful of drowning.
Eventually, we find our bearings, sink our toes in the sand, and embrace the cool salty water lapping our ankles. We have forgiven—again. Until the waves crash down unexpectedly again and again, and we succumb to another wave of unforgiveness.
How should a follower of Christ handle forgiveness?
Paul wrote to the Ephesians about forgiveness. “Be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you,” (Ephesians 4:32).
Sounds like a checklist:
- Be kind—check.
- Be compassionate—check.
But that’s not what Paul is saying.
It might help if we invert the sentence. “Just as God in Christ has forgiven you, be kind, be compassionate, forgive.
God’s forgiveness for us results in our own kindness, compassion, and forgiveness toward others.
If I’m honest, forgiveness is not easy. But when I take my eyes off my own circumstances and place them on Christ, who forgave me on that tree—I’m just undone. Christ’s forgiveness and love changes me.
The waves still come and often knock me down breathless. But when the Holy Spirit takes my hand and positions me right, I find I’m not alone. We face those waves together. I forgive because I am forgiven.