Several months ago, I read this passage in the second chapter of 2 Corinthians:
5 If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you to some extent—not to put it too severely. 6 The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient. 7 Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him.
I’ve wrestled with forgiveness over the years, as I’m sure many people have. It can be so complicated, to know what forgiveness looks like, how it acts, what it should accomplish… I’ve written many times about it, some times in frustration, sometimes in inspiration. It is so central a theme to the Christian’s life, that I think we must be wrapped up in the concept all the time. We all need it. We must all give it. So, I think, we must all talk about it.
Reading this passage, I understood another piece of it. Particularly, the part about being overwhelmed by sorrow. Paul tells the people to forgive this man in the church, lest he be drowned by his sadness. We know to forgive people for many reasons, primarily because we were first forgiven by God. But what about this? When I have been wronged, I know that I have not spent much time considering how heavy a burden the offender may carry. I am thinking of how this person has harmed me, taken something from me, whether it’s peace of mind or whatever. I think how wrong they were to injure me, and how I wish they could know what they’ve really done, what they’ve ruined, what they’ve cost me. I think of the damage that is done to me by their selfishness or thoughtlessness or neglect or whatever it is. I just want them to truly GET IT, and then maybe I can see my way to forgiveness.
Now, I’m not saying there is not legitimacy in my emotions– sometimes, people hurt you. You’re not wrong for being hurt. And it takes time to heal. I’ve written gobs about that.
There are times when forgiveness feels like you’re saying, it didn’t matter that you hurt me. It might feel like a surrender, a defeat. Hard to forgive when you feel like that.
But what if there’s another side to forgiveness? What if you have the choice to forgive not as a reaction to their repentance or their confession, or even your healing, or, yes, even because Jesus forgives YOU? Can forgiveness stretch even farther? Can you forgive, though you still hurt? Can you forgive even if they never knew how badly they hurt you? Is that possible?
Well, it must be. Because Paul tells this congregation, forgive him. And not just forgive him, but comfort him. It goes beyond just absolution, and into an action laced with compassion, with outreach. Paul doesn’t qualify his command with “because the guy is really sorry, he really gets it now.” He doesn’t present the man’s case– “see how he’s tried to make amends, see how far he’s come”? No, he tells them to forgive him, because the lack of it may overwhelm this brother. It may be a sorrow beyond his ability to bear. This man in need of forgiveness was still walking an edge. He had repented, but his grief was close. He was struggling enough that their lack of fellowship, their withholding, could be enough to bury him.
We are so used to seeing forgiveness as a reactionary force. But, can it also be an action on your part, a purposeful overture to lighten a heavy burden, even though you have barely healed wounds? There are times when someone sins, and they face consequences so far beyond hurt feelings– the reality of their actions are near enough to sink them. Add to it the disconnection from loved ones, from the the body of Christ, and it might be enough to overwhelm. It might be enough to lose this one to the despair and brokenness.
When I read that, I got it. More is at stake here than my hurt feelings, my collection of wrongs. I can forgive. I can forgive! I want to forgive!
How I wanted to shout it!
I can let go, and let God deal with my bruises. This is a way I can minister to those in need of forgiveness, because God bless me, it’ll be me next time. Holding on to offense just isn’t worth it. I won’t heap another sorrow on his head. That’s not the effect I want to have on the people around me. I want to be a lightener, someone who makes the lives of others better- I want the kind of love that “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
God is gracious, patient with me as I’ve struggled to understand forgiveness. I thank Him for this verse in particular. It has set me free.
I can forgive.
And you can, too.
If you’re struggling, keep on. Keep working on it. Wrestle it. Grapple with forgiveness, don’t let up. It may be just around the corner, just in the next verse, just in the next prayer.