How Do You Forgive?
What does it mean to forgive someone? How do you know if you have really forgiven? What difference does it make if you do not forgive? Can you serve the Lord and not forgive others? Is forgiveness a one-way transaction or does it involve participation by the offended and the offender? Sometimes it is difficult to answer these questions.
Christians, because of their spiritual rebirth, should naturally have a forgiving spirit. And yet, if we don’t even understand forgiveness, are we really forgiving?
An elderly person stated: “In my younger days an influential, spiritual leader accused me of a horrific sin. I was innocent. Because of the public accusation, I was embarrassed and angered. I left the church for a year. I don’t think I turned from God during that time, but I was unsure of my spiritual condition as a result of the incident. I believed that I forgave the man in my heart. And yet, years later, sometimes I wonder if I really did forgive him.” How can we know for sure?
Can you forgive someone if you only do it in your heart? Is a personal confrontation necessary to have real forgiveness? Does the offender have to show remorse in order to be forgiven? What is the relationship between Divine and human forgiveness? Are we supposed to forgive like God forgives? Is this even possible?
Jesus said that if we don’t forgive we can’t expect to receive the forgiveness of God. This reality emphasizes the importance of the matter, therefore we need to be aware of what true forgiveness means. The news item for our lesson today about the mother of a mass murderer who received forgiveness from the parents of the victims will serve as a springboard to explore this important issue.
Checking the News –
On October 6, 2006, 32-year-old, Charles Carl Roberts IV, entered the West Nickel Mines School. The one-room schoolhouse served as the education center for the Amish children Nickel Mines, a village in Bart Township of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.
Roberts was not an Amish man. He was a milk truck driver who delivered milk to several of their farms. He had three children and a wife.
On that fateful day, Roberts took hostages and shot ten girls. The girls ranged in age from 6 – 13. Five were killed in the process. Before the ordeal was over he took his life as well.
At about 10:25 a.m. EST, Charles backed his pickup to the schoolhouse. Entering the school, he approached the teacher, Emma Mae Zook and asked if she had seen a missing clevis pin on the road. (A clevis pin is a fastener with a cylindrical head, a point and a hole through the side which is used to join a rod or cable.) The teacher and the students stated that they had no knowledge of a missing clevis pin. Roberts then left the schoolhouse, only to return a few minutes later holding a Springfield XD 9mm handgun. He ordered the boys in the schoolhouse to carry items that were in the back of his pickup, into the school house. (The items included lumber, a shotgun, a stun-gun, wires, chains, nails, tools, a wooden board with multiple sets of metal eye-hooks, and a small bag. The bag held a change of clothes, toilet paper, candles, and flexible plastic ties.)
One of the girls and her mother escaped during this time. Roberts saw them running away and ordered them to stop, stating that he would shoot everyone if they got away. The girl, Zook, and her mother reached a nearby farm were they asked Amos Smoker to call 911.
The girls were lined up against the chalkboard. A pregnant woman, three parents with infants, and the fifteen male students were allowed to leave. Nine-year old Emma Fisher who spoke only Pennsylvania German did not understand his order to remain and she escaped when the boys exited the building. Ten hostages remained in the school.
The police arrived about six minutes after the 9-1-1 call was made. They briefly established telephone communication with Roberts who responded to their demands by threatening violence to the children. At approximately 11:07 a.m. he began to execute the children. The troopers rushed the building, but by the time they arrived the shooting had ceased. They soon discovered that Roberts had committed suicide. A few moments later the police were able to break through the barricaded door to assist the injured survivors.
That same day, the grandfather of one of the murdered Amish girls warned his relatives not to hate the killer. He stated, “We must not think evil of this man.” Jack Meyer explained, “I don’t think there’s anybody here that wants to do anything but forgive, and not only reach out to those who have suffered a loss in that way, but to reach out to the family of the man who committed these acts.”
This stated proved to be true. One Amish man held Roberts’ sobbing father in his arms for an hour, trying to comfort him. The Amish community set up a charitable fund for the family of the shooter. About 30 Amish people attended Charles Roberts’ funeral. Although the Amish are very exclusive regarding their worship services, they extended an invitation to Charles’ widow, Marie, to attend the funeral of one of the victims.
Terri Roberts, Charles’ mother, said that her first reaction was that she was going to have to move from the community. The night of the massacre, however, the Amish drove their buggies up to her house to deliver a message of forgiveness. They wanted her to stay. This made a great impact on her life. Since then she has made it her practice to spend time with the most seriously wounded survivor every Thursday.
Terri found that she also had to extend forgiveness. She had to forgive her son for what he had done to others and to her. She said, “I realized if I didn’t forgive him, I would have the same hole in my heart that he had. And a root of bitterness never brings peace to anyone. We are called to forgive.”
Terri has discovered a ministry of forgiveness in the midst of the wreckage in her life. Besides writing a memoir, she delivers scores of messages to audiences about the importance of forgiveness. Another son has also found that he feels called to spread this message taught through example by the Amish neighbors. He has prepared a documentary film called, “Hope,” which details Terri’s journey from heartbroken mother to inspirational speaker.
Checking the Sources –
CBS, “http://www.cbsnews.com/news/mother-of-amish-school-shooter-shares-amazing-story-of-forgiveness/Mother of Amish school shooter shares amazing story of forgiveness,” http://www.cbsnews.com/news/mother-of-amish-school-shooter-shares-amazing-story-of-forgiveness/”>http://www.cbsnews.com/news/mother-of-amish-school-shooter-shares-amazing-story-of-forgiveness/
CBS News, “Amish: Separate and Peaceful,” http://www.cbsnews.com/news/amish-separate-and-peaceful/
Mail Online, “’None of us needs to live the saddest part of our lives 24/7′: Mother of Amish schoolhouse shooter shares her story of forgiveness ,” http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2520819/Family-Amish-schoolhouse-shooter-shares-story-forgiveness.html
McCall News, “Amish school shooter’s mother goes public with healing message,” http://www.mcall.com/news/nationworld/mc-pa-amish-school-shooter-mom-speaks-20131207,0,4293147.story
Daily News, “Mother of gunman who killed five Amish girls in 2006 cares for survivor of son’s massacre,” http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/mother-amish-killer-cares-survivor-son-massacre-article-1.1542337
Wikipedia, “Amish School Shooting,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amish_school_shooting
- What is forgiveness? Define.
- What does forgiveness involve?
- If forgiveness an action or a feeling?
- Can you forgive if it is not sought?
- Is it bad to not forgive?
- Is forgiveness supposed to be unconditional?
Checking the Word –
Matthew 18:22 Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.
Although some interpret this verse to suggest that forgiveness must be without conditions, it actually is stating that forgiveness is to be without bounds. Unconditional forgiveness can be defined as “the canceling of a debt to all those who intentionally offend us, whether or not they own up to what they have done.” Luke repeats that same story, but adds a condition when he says, “Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him.” (Luke 17:3)
- Do you have to say you are sorry in order to be forgiven?
- Do you have to pledge to change your behavior in order to be truly forgiven?
- Do you have to tell the offender they are forgiven in order to really forgive?
- How do you forgive when you don’t feel like it?
- Is forgiveness a choice involving the will, or is it an emotional state of being?
- What is the motivation for forgiveness?
- Is forgiveness an act of faith? Explain.
Ephes. 4:32 And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.
Col. 3:13 Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.
This verse might be considered to be “the other Golden Rule.” Whereas the Golden rule tells us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, this verse tells us to do unto others as God has done unto us. Our actions declare our ownership. Forgiveness does not forget the offense or ignore restitution. Instead, forgiveness tempers our response. It refuses the entrance of hatred, bitterness, and revenge. We cannot control what others do, but the Spirit living within us can control our response to the actions of others.
Just as God sees value in us when we are on the trash heap of self-devaluation, so we through the eyes of the Spirit, who lives within us, are able to see the potential for the one who has wronged us. We recognize that this person, if forgiven not only by us but also by God, can be regenerated – made anew into something beautiful in the kingdom of God. As we forgive people who offend us, we must remember that it is because of the cross. God for Christ’s sake forgave us. Because of Christ we forgive others.
- Is human forgiveness different from divine forgiveness? If so, how?
- Did Jesus forgive everybody who offended Him? If so, does that mean that all people who offend were saved?
- If Jesus did not forgive all who offended Him, does that mean that we do not have to forgive all who offend us?
- If that is the case, how do you know when forgiveness is required and when it is not?
- Is it essential that we forgive everyone who wrongs us even if they do not show remorse or repentance? What about those who we will never meet who wrong us such as national leaders?
- Theologian Lewis B. Smedes in his book, “Forgive and Forget” said, “When you release the wrongdoer from the wrong, you cut a malignant tumor out of your inner life. You set a prisoner free, but you discover that the real prisoner was yourself.” Is this true? If so, I what ways?
- Can forgiveness be immediate, or is it sometimes a slow process? Why?
- Can you forgive and still remain angry desiring justice for the person who has offended you?
Matthew 6:14 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:
The Greek word in the New Testament for forgive, “aphiemi,” means “to remit (a debt), to leave alone, to allow, to leave, to send away, to desert or abandon, and to divorce.” It appears 146 times in the New Testament, but is translated as “forgive” only 38 times in most English versions.
If we insert these meanings into this verse, we could say that Jesus is teaching that when we forgive we determine in our own minds that the offense is no longer is an offense, and the relationship that was interrupted by the offense will continue as if the offense never occurred. Forgiveness is an act of obedience. This verse states an imperative. It is an “if – then” statement. If we do not have a forgiving heart, then how can we ever expect to enjoy the forgiveness of God?
- Is it possible to erase an offense from our remembrance?
- Is complete forgiveness required on our part if we expect to maintain a relationship with Jesus?
- If so, how is this consistent with forgiveness being conditional?
- What is the purpose of forgiveness?
- In what way is God’s forgiveness connected to your forgiveness? Which comes first?
- If you fail to forgive someone after you have been forgiven from your sins, does God then withdraw His forgiveness from you? If not, what did Jesus mean?
Checking the Outcome –
- As a family, go through a each of the Gospels, one devotional session for each, and catalog the comments Jesus made regarding forgiveness.
- After your family has cataloged the comments Jesus made regarding forgiveness, have your family in following devotional session(s) agree on a short two or three sentence commentary for each instance. What was Jesus saying to the people?
- Have your family members each describe a time when they have been offended or hurt by someone and how they responded. During your prayer time pray for each of the offenders and also ask God to help your family develop a greater strength in forgiveness.