Monday, 18 July 2016

On Forgiveness: 4 What Forgiveness Really Is

Shelley Lubben spent eight years as a sex worker in Los Angeles.  She was a porn star.  She allowed herself to be lured into this, thinking it was a solution to some of her financial problems.  She suffered a great deal of abuse, became addicted to alcohol and various drugs and contracted an incurable sexually transmitted disease.  She then got cervical cancer, which she survived.  She had every right, humanly speaking, to feel deep shame towards herself and deep bitterness against the people who had taken advantage of her naïvety.  She became a Christian and was delivered from that lifestyle.  It took another eight years for her to overcome the trauma and psychological problems that it had caused.  She now spends her time warning young people of the harm that industry does and campaigning on issues connected with the pornography industry.  She and her family still receive death threats for the work she does.  In order for her to be fully restored, she has had to forgive every single person who had abused her.

Because of the power of forgiveness, she is able to use what was done for her as a way of saving many more lives.
Joseph was sold by his brothers, trafficked into the hands of people smugglers who took him to a foreign country and sold him as a slave.  He became a housekeeper.  He was then falsely accused of sexual assault and thrown into prison without trial.  The brothers who sold him told their father that he was dead.  You may have read the account of this in Genesis 37-50.  Or you may have seen the Musical.

Because God was with Joseph, he was able to say to his brothers at the end of all this:

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.
Genesis 50:20

Sometimes the people we forgive may never realise what they have done, they may not apologise, they may even continue to do bad things to us, as in Shelley Lubben’s case.  Sometimes we can get reconciled with the people we forgive, as with Joseph and his brothers.

In either case, we need to see that God always has a bigger purpose even in the harm someone does to us.  That helps us to forgive them.  We also need to see that we have done bad things too.  When we receive God’s forgiveness, we can then go on to forgive others.

I relate that story (and I could tell countless more) because I want to make the point that however badly you have been treated, forgiveness needs to flow from you in order for you to be restored.

We may not be able to forget what somebody has done to us, but we can take the sting out of it.  We can stop being bitter and angry with that person, we can love that person, be kind to them and want the very best for them.  In doing so, we can experience complete healing and freedom from any damage we have suffered as a result of their actions.

I choose to live with the consequences of your actions towards me and to remain thankful.

Incredibly, we can ask God to forgive us, to not count our sins against us, to treat us as if we have never done anything wrong.

When speaking of God’s forgiveness of us, the Bible says in four different places:

‘I will remember your sins no more.’ (See Isaiah 43:25, Jeremiah 31:34, Hebrews 8:11, Hebrews 10:17)

That’s incredible, isn’t it?  How can the all-powerful, all-knowing God choose not to remember something, let alone our wrongdoing?  We could get into an interesting theological discussion about this, but the fact remains that we may remember what someone has done to us and unable to forget it.

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