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By STEVEN GANZ
What is forgiveness? On what basis does God forgive us? On what basis do we forgive others? How do we know if we are forgiven? And how do we know if we have forgiven someone? This will be a two-part article.
There are so many questions that people have about forgiveness. First off, why is forgiveness important? Anyone who has been married for longer than a day knows its importance. It is how we get passed the conflicts that occur when someone does something that bothers or hurts us. Without forgiveness no relationship will continue for very long.
So what is forgiveness? The story is told of when the Moravian missionaries first came to one of the northern indigenous tribes in Alaska, they found that there was not a word in their language for forgiveness. The missionaries made one by putting together several other words. It came out to be: Issumagijoujungnainermik. This word meant “Not-being-able-to-think-about-it-anymore.”
We often think of forgetfulness as a problem. Yet when it comes to forgiveness, forgetfulness is a primary ingredient. The prophet Jeremiah in the Old Testament wrote that when God will make a new covenant or arrangement with his people, God “will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more”. And the prophet Micah wrote poetically that God would “cast all our sins into the depths of the sea”. So when God forgives, God forgets.
But on what basis can we expect to forgive? How we can say, it’s OK, I won’t think about it anymore, when it is not OK? After all, isn’t there any justice?
Not too long ago there was a war in Rwanda between the Tutsis and the Hutus. One side just slaughtered the other. Hundreds of thousands of people were hacked up and left dead with no one to bury them. Afterwards, the leaders of the country called for a national forgiveness, since justice would be impossible to serve. Let’s just forgive.
The problem with this kind of forgiveness is that it is only on the surface. Some Tutsi or Hutu would only have to have a bad attitude day and fear would spring up in people’s hearts. Are they going to kill again? Or get revenge? Are my children safe?
Indeed, there must be some villages or neighborhoods where a child has to look daily upon the killer of their mother or father and deal with the thought, “That person got away with murder — the murder of my family.” Forgiveness without justice is sentimentalism, and justice without forgiveness is cruel. Forgiveness and justice must work together, as demonstrated by Jesus and the cross. Then we can have real love which then forms the basis for justice and forgiveness. It is only the cross of Christ that provides any basis for true forgiveness. Justice is served by the death of Jesus, who offered himself to die as the head of humanity. When Jesus died, we all justly died.
If you are having a difficult time forgiving because it seems that they are just getting away with it, remember the cross. When Jesus died for us, we all died in that death. The person who is to be forgiven has already been given what they deserve with Jesus’ death on the cross. Justice for everyone’s sin was served when Jesus died on the cross for each of us.
What Jesus did on the cross forms the basis for forgiveness — not only by God for me, but for each of us towards each other. Justice has been served and both God and us are free to “not-being-able-to-think-about-it-anymore.”
The Rev. Steven Ganz is pastor of Clover Pass Community Church.
Perspectives is a regular column sponsored and written by members of the Ketchikan Ministerial Association.