What Does It Mean to Forgive?
During a discussion at the pastors house last sunday, the topic of forgiveness came up. The speaker for our missions conference made the statement that you are only commanded to forgive if the offender repents. Sounds wrong doesn’t it. Try looking it up in scripture. I reference Luke 17:3-4 specifically.
I’ve thought about this a bit, and I want to say that he is right. You would want to make this distinction though,and not get caught up in the semantics of the word. He’s not saying you have freedom to get bitter. Forgiveness isn’t the opposite of bitterness, its clearing the record of the wrong, absolving the consequences. You can only do that when the offender repents, to forgive him before then is to, in effect, spoil him, let him off without punishment.
What most people mean when they say you must forgive someone, is that you must learn to love them in spite of your pain. To be fair, the english definition does allow that kind of definition, ie releasing the anger and resentment toward a person. It’s ok to be grieved, but when your pain prevents you from loving the other person, you entertain the sin of bitterness.
I think some confusion can arise from the dual meanings of forgiveness in the English language, and I’m curious your thoughts. Is there a better word to describe what scripture commands in regard to those who offend us? Perhaps a better word to describe the release of anger and resentment? What emotions play into forgiveness, and what attitudes are usually involved? How do those attitudes relate to each other, i.e. what is the opposite of forgiveness, and what the antithesis of bitterness?
Just for reference, there are three different greek words translated as ‘forgive’ in the New Testament. They differ in degree mostly. Strongs number 863 means to send away, and is used most often. Paul uses 5483, which has a much richer aspect of grace and graciousness attatched to it, and a couple times in Luke, 630 is used and seems to have a bit more finality than 863.