“Forgiveness means giving up your rights to punish another.”
I read this statement recently and it really stuck with me. I find myself coming back to it, thinking about it and meditating on it because it is true, and it is so revealing.
A husband who has forgiven his wife for the dent she put in his car does not continually bring up her driving or tease her whenever she is going to drive his car again. A wife who has forgiven her husband for the insensitive thing he said last week does not make him sleep in the guest room for a week. When you forgive, it really does mean that you give up your right to punish the offender.
But punish is what we do or at least what we want to do. I don’t often punish or get back at a person who has hurt me or offended me; I’m a Christian, but I often want to.
When I think about an offense or the one who offended me, I often imagine an interaction where I put them in their place, refuse to do something for them or just ignore them — in short, punish them for what they did to me. I would probably never do that, but it feels good to imagine doing it.
But even imaginary punishment reveals that I have not fully forgiven. I have not given up my rights to punish when I spend time on imaginary situations where I do punish. For me this is highly insightful and reveals areas where I still have not fully forgiven.
I found myself thinking of an imaginary situation this past week.
Someone hurt me many months ago. I found myself thinking about how I would love to put them in their place for what they did to me. Off and on for a few days, I thought about the offense and then I imagined how I might get back at them, and it feels good.
Even as I write these words, I can see my thoughts and response are so adolescent. But they are there — more often than I like to admit. After reading the statement last week about forgiveness and punishment, I could see I had not fully dealt with this offense. I needed to fully forgive and give up my right to punish.
As I continued to reflect on this statement, something very positive jumped out at me. Since forgiveness means giving up your rights to punish another, God the father gave up his rights to punish me when he forgave my sins. I am forgiven.
I accepted the free gift of salvation paid for by Jesus’ death on the cross. God will never punish me for my sins; he gave up his right to do that when He forgave me. That’s love. That’s awesome. That’s freedom.
I can hardly believe it because I know that my sins, past and present, deserve to be punished. God knows that, too.
But he punished Jesus in my place and then forgave me — and by doing so gave up his rights to ever punish me again.
I keep thinking about this, and it blows me away. It humbles me. It fills my heart with joy and awe and wonder at the love God has for me and for you.
We live in an offend/punish world. God’s kingdom is an offend/forgive kingdom, and he expects me to act like he does. Get hurt, get offended — forgive.
It’s not easy, but it is right for all of us who have chosen for follow Jesus.
I expect I’ll come back to this statement often, both as a reminder of how greatly God loves me and also as a way of seeing if I have forgiven those who offend or harm me. It is easier to hold on to the offense than to forgive – but I am choosing God’s way.
I’m forgiving. I hope you are, too.
The Rev. Rick Glowacki is lead pastor at Columbus First Assembly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.