I’ve often spoke and written on forgiveness, and it occurs to me that there is a lot of different understandings on what it is. Some say “forgive and forget” – a near psychological impossibility – while some have attempted to leverage the pain others caused them to prove the haters wrong; using their unforgiveness as a sort of fuel to drive them forward.
But I find that we all know instinctively that forgiveness is important and necessary for our own well being. I’ve often taught that withholding forgiveness is like drinking poison, but expecting it to hurt the other person. Others have said that forgiving is like setting a prisoner free, only to realize the prisoner was actually you.
We know we should forgive. Often, we want to forgive. But how do we forgive someone who has wronged us, and how do we know we’ve truly granted forgiveness to the other person?
- Forgiveness is a choice. That means it starts with your will, and the good news about that, is you have direct control over it. The feeling of forgiveness follows the decision to forgive.
- Forgiveness is a process. It’s not as simple as snapping your fingers, deciding you’ve forgiven someone, and it’s over. This is why it’s harder to forgive some things more than others. The greater the hurt, the harder the process. So once you’ve decided you should forgive someone, you’ll often have to “re-forgive” their offense, as the feelings of hurt, anger, and bitterness try to creep back in.
- Forgiveness is self-care. It’s not simple a matter of whether the person who hurt you deserves to be forgiven. Truth is NO ONE deserves to be forgiven! But love requires forgiveness. Love for the other person, but also love for yourself. Forgiving someone doesn’t just mean that they get to move on, it means you get to move on.
- Forgiveness is not forgetfulness. As mentioned earlier, you can’t! We lie to ourselves when we say “forgive and forget”. Sometimes, forgiveness means I’m not going to trust you again. Sometimes it means, I’m not putting myself in a position where I have to forgive you again.
- Forgiveness has a calling card. You know you’ve truly forgiven when you get to the point where you want what’s best for them, not what they “deserve.” If they get hurt back, and you think “Ha! Karma! Finally!” You definitely have not forgiven them. If instead you hurt for them, that’s a sign you’ve truly let something go, and given them what you would want – what you need – when the role is reversed.
Recently I’ve been preaching a message series at Edgewood’s Sunday night service on The Patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Specifically, I’ve been focusing on the implications of God referring to Himself through the Scriptures as the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob. Last night I preached on a particularly favorite story of mine among the patriarchs: Jacob wrestling with God in Genesis 32. Yes, God. Not an angel, but the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ Himself, in this preachers humble opinion (Gen. 32:30).
In order for Jacob to receive the blessing from this peculiar visitor that he had so desperately been seeking his whole life, really, the “Man” asks Jacob, “What is your name?”
For real?!? Don’t you know who you’ve been wrestling with all night? Of course He does. When God asks us a question, it isn’t because He doesn’t know the answer, it’s because He wants us to think about something. Jacob had to relive the last time he asked a different man for a blessing… his father, 20 years earlier. Only, that time He lied to his father and duped him into thinking that He was his older brother, Esau – who under normal circumstances would receive his fathers blessing, not Jacob.
But as Jacob confesses his true identity, simultaneously admitting to being the “heal-cather,” or “trickster” that his name implies, God tells him that he will no longer be called Jacob, but Israel. God gave Jacob a new name. This one exchange alone changes the rest of the Bible! Israel would become the name of God’s people, Jacob’s descendents – ironically, of whom Christ would be incarnated into.
Then Jacob – very humbled and curious, I believe – returns the question, “Tell me your name, I pray.” And the Man, a.k.a. Christ, simply says, “Why is it that you ask about my name?” and then He blessed him.
Interestingly, God would later reveal Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob… Not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. Why? Is it even important? I think so. Though God took away Jacob’s old identity as the “heal-catcher” which would have betrayed his past life, and gave him a new name, representing his new identity in Christ, He kept the name of Jacob’s past for Himself. But why?
I believe that as Romans 5:8 tells us that, “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us,” this name exchange is a beautiful portrayal of Gods love toward all “Jacobs”. By identifying Himself as the God of Jacob, It’s as if God is declaring His love for us in our imperfect, broken, sinful state. He is not just the God of the forgiven, healed, and whole. He doesn’t just love us once we’ve come to His Son in faith. He loves us when we are lost in our sin, held hostage by our past, and empty on the inside… just like Jacob.
God took for Himself the name of Jacob’s past and gave Jacob a new name representing his future. Just like Christ took our old life with Him to the grave, rising again to give us a new life, a new future, and a new identity. And one day, He will give us a new name as well. Jacob just got his early – a promise to all of us who confess to God our brokenness in sin and our need for Him who can change us.
I’m grateful that He is not just the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but the God of other sinners, too. Like me.
This past week at our Saturday night worship service, I preached on 5 things you must do to make this year better than last year. I thought it would be good to share them with everyone following the blog, so here you are:
- Leave the past behind. Phil. 3:12, 13. God cares more about where you are going than where you’ve been.
- Do something difficult. Phil. 4:11-13. God is calling you to do things that require Him.
- Find yourself in God’s story. Eph. 2:4-7. Start seeing yourself through God’s eyes.
- Focus on people. Eph. 4:32. Start seeing other people through God’s eyes.
- Start today. 2 Cor. 6:2. Do not hesitate to do what God is calling you to do.
What if the things that get us tangled up were more obvious? If we could see sin for what it really is, we might be surprised at how devastating, and how beatable, it really is. Join us at Edgewood on Saturday nights, 5pm, for a series on temptation, sin, guilt, and forgiveness.
We’re very excited to be introducing this sermon series this fall! Knowledge is powerful when applied correctly. So we’re having a frank series that deals with the our sin issues, puts them into the right perspective, and equips people with the right tools to overcome their sin. We wanted to go with a spooky kind of theme for the end of October without it feeling cheesy. Check out this preview video below for a better look at what’s coming.