|Series Theme: Forgiveness|
Title: 1. Am I an Offender with Unresolved Issues
These pages are primarily for Christians, but we hope that if you are a non-Christian you will benefit from them as well. This page is one of four and the subjects covered are:
Forgiveness is an often misunderstood concept, or one that is just ignored, but in either case, difficulties in life ensue as a result.
We hope these pages will hope clarify the situation for you and bring resolution where that is lacking
1. Introduction to the Basics of Forgiveness
To start of with, we need to just observe what we mean by forgiveness. This is how it works in its most simplified form:
Of course if you are someone who does't believe in forgiveness, or who simply doesn't bother about forgiveness, then these introductory points are merely moot points as far as you are concerned and you may wish to jump down to Part Two.
There is a view about forgiveness which is very popular in some quarters that goes like this:
What this view says is that whenever you are wronged you've simply got to ‘forgive ' the person who wronged you.
For the Christian, this is a very unbiblical stance. It is NOT what the Bible teaches.
Perhaps before we go any further we need to lay to rest a misconception. Very often in this discussion people says, "But Jesus on the Cross said, 'father forgive them they know not what they do'" (Lk 23:34) and they suggest that this is God fogiving before there is repentance.
Here's the danger of that viewpoint: universalism - the belief that everyone is forgiven by the death of Jesus on the Cross. We suggest that is wrong because:
The much more likely meaning is that Jesus is applying Old Testament theology found in Leviticus that the big issue arose when the person became aware that what they had done was wrong. Once they did the sacrifice means forgiveness would follow.
Let's explain why that is. Let's go through the - three-stage version - above to explain this:
i) A wrongs B
As far as GOD is concerned, there is now an issue to be dealt with.
We'll examine what the issue is in a moment, but it is an issue with God and He demands it be dealt with in a particular way.
ii) A asks B for forgiveness
This is essential, because the issue is first between A and God, and only then between A and B, and as far as God is concerned, the issue cannot be dealt with until A faces up to it.
iii) B grants forgiveness
This is the conclusion to the process and is important for the process to be rounded off in a right way. Without this there an incomplete situation.
We will look at each of these points in more detail in what follows.
For the moment we need to put aside the fact that we have wronged another human being, and consider the fact that, first of all, we have created an issue with God.
What follows is true of all such issues, but it can then be applied to the issues of wronging another person.
2. My Wrong Against God
Let's look at what the Bible says about the wrong that has been committed.
2.1 It's a wrong against God.
Many of us forget about God in our daily lives and pretend He's not there. The fact is that He is and He sees every single thing we do. Moreover, He holds us accountable for ALL that we do.
Whatever we do that is contrary to the way He has designed us to be, is what the Bible calls ‘ sin ', and God holds us accountable for every sin we commit.
There is often debate as to whether God purposefully and specifically brings ‘discipline' to bear on our lives, or whether our simply running our lives wrongly means they breakdown and pain ensues!
Regardless of the mechanics, the result is always the same!
Where we were genuinely unaware that we had wronged another, the Bible indicates that God does NOT hold that against us.
It IS a wrong but it is something that God has dealt with by means of the Cross of Christ, where God deals with ALL sin by Jesus' substitutionary death i.e. he stood in for us. (This isn't to say that God won't bring it to our attention at some future date to ensure we don't repeat it.)
However, where we ARE aware (even if we try to ignore it) that we have done wrong, THEN we have an issue with God that needs dealing with in a specific way.
Let ' s consider this further.
2.2 Outstanding, Unresolved Issues
Remember, this is where we know we have done wrong. This can be thought, word or deed.
Because God is wanting our lives to develop and mature and be free from wrong that harms us or others, He will hold this issue before us until it is dealt with properly.
While this remains an unresolved issue, we are likely to find negative results in our lives (brought directly by God or indirectly by His design, as noted above).
The Bible simply says that you "reap what you sow" (Galatians 6:7)
Many, many people (including Christians) are, therefore, coping with what we have gently described as ‘ negatives', and wonder why things are going wrong.
Answer: they are ignoring God ' s design and God's declared will for us.
For this outstanding issue to be resolved, there is a simple method laid down by God, and we'll consider that now.
2.3 Dealing with the Outstanding Unresolved Issue:
The correct method of dealing with your wrong is as follows:
1. Acknowledge it and confess it to God. Facing it honestly is a prerequisite to being forgiven.
2. Ask God's forgiveness on the basis of what Jesus did for you on the Cross. God can forgive you if someone else (His Son) takes what you deserve.
When you acknowledge it and ask for forgiveness, He transfers the guilt to Jesus on the Cross (because He stands outside of time) and declares you forgiven (free).
3. You forsake the wrong, i.e. you don t carry on doing it! To keep on with it is an indication you weren't really sorry about it.
4. You do whatever is necessary, in respect of others, which will mean asking them for forgiveness, and sorting out any restitution that may be necessary. (We'll cover that later on below)
3. My Wrong against another Person
So far we've only dealt with putting the thing right with God. The next stage is putting the thing right with the person you wronged, and this is equally important.
3.1 The State of the Wronged Person
You are going to have to put yourself in their shoes, to understand what they have been going through, before you approach them.
Various things are going to influence how they feel:
The nature of the offence: some things are merely hurtful while other things cause great ongoing harm
For example, if you swore at someone you have simply offended them.
If, on the other hand, you were a man who had hit your wife, you haven't only offended her, you have also created fear in her.
If you were a father who abused your daughter through her childhood years you didn't only offend her or create fear in her, you have left her with a legacy of feeling unclean and unworthy and a probable inability to trust men.
She will probably be needing deep counsel to recover from the effects of what you did to her! She will not be feeling good about you!
How long ago the offence occurred: basically the longer ago the offence was, the longer there has been for the offence to build up hurt, resentment etc.
Where the offence involved you saying things to others about the person you wronged, the longer time has passed, the greater the opportunity for that offence to be spread, take root in others' lives and cause greater harm to the reputation of that other person.
How many other people have been involved: the greater the number, the greater the effect.
As indicated in the example immediately above, where your wrong involved a number of other people, the impact of what you have said or done is going to be multiplied, and the action to be taken to remedy the situation will need to be that much greater.
Whether it is a moral or legal issue: some wrongs will also be crimes and require further action.
Slapping your partner when you are angry is a moral issue (it could be considered criminal violence, but normally if it is a one-off and simple as that, it isn't).
Speaking abuse at someone is a moral issue. Stealing from someone is a moral AND legal issue.
Sexual abuse of a child is a moral AND legal issue.
Where it is a legal issue (assuming you wish to completely clear the record, as any Christian would), then confession may need to involve the police and/or social workers.
The temptation will always be to put this off in the hope it will never come to light, but in the situation where others are involved, e.g. child abuse, then there is always the possibility that at some point in your life, they will 'blow the whistle' on you.
Far better that you confess it voluntarily, receive help, and face and clear the consequences.
3.2 Help Needed to Deal with it.
In any and every case where we have wronged another, as we've said above, our first port of call is to talk to God about it, confessing it to Him as an offence against Him.
We may also need to ask Him for grace to go through with the procedure. Grace is simply the divine ability to handle the situation rightly. It may involve strength, courage, humility, wisdom, all of which are needed to be able to say, "I am really sorry!"
The bigger the issue, the more of God's grace will be needed. Sometimes God's grace is in the form of help from someone else.
This is not someone who will be casual about your wrong, but someone who will lovingly stand alongside you while you go through the process.
It is good to have someone alongside you who will be impartial, who can hold you accountable, who can say, "Yes, you handled that well. That was good," or even, "Be honest with yourself, you're not really in the right frame of mind to wrok this through yes, are?"
3.3 Saying Sorry
Somewhere along the line, you are going to have to go to the person you wronged, say sorry and ask for their forgiveness.
Now above we suggested that you put yourself in the shoes of the person you wronged, and the reason we did this was for you to recognise something of what they may be feeling about what happened, and what they might be feeling about you.
If they haven't come to you first (because they haven't read the 2nd page on this subject), then you going to them may come completely out of the blue. It may be completely unexpected.
This means they will not have time to think about what you are saying and their reaction may be less than gracious!
Obviously you will only be taking this step, if you have read the words of this page, and have decided that you do indeed need to take action.
You will therefore approach them with gentleness, contrition and humility. That will help. But you do need to be prepared for their initial reaction to you to be negative: "So what took you so long then?" or "So big deal, you think that makes it all right then?"
If your heart is true in its intention, then you will take this and NOT respond negatively.
You hope their reaction will be good straight away (and it may be!), but you have to be prepared to let them go away hostile, and for God to bring peace to them.
When you say sorry, for it to be true, it is to be without excuses.
Also you remain sorry after you've said the words to them, even if they have not responded positively.
You may need to be praying for grace to speak gracious word in parting, so that you leave the door open for them to come back to you some time in the future, in a more harmonious frame of mind.
When you ask for forgiveness, you do it in the very best way, seeking to bring healing and reconciliation. Having done all you can, you must then leave it up to God to work, to bring it to completion in reality.
3.4 The Matter of Restitution
Some offences cause damage or physical loss. Sometimes merely saying sorry is insufficient, restitution is required, which means you replacing what was taken or broken.
Where a reputation is taken, then restitution means going to speak to each and every person you spoke to in the reputation-destroying process. It will mean confessing to them that you were wrong in your judgment.
3.5 What if it's not physically possible
Some who are reading this page, may recognise that as Christians they have an unresolved outstanding situation where they failed, and which now needs putting right, but where the practicalities now seem impossible.
The most obvious case is where the person you wronged is now dead. Obviously you cannot say sorry to them, but you can still say sorry to God.
The other obvious case is where the person in question has left the area and you no longer know where they are. The same applies, although possibly a few simple enquiries will produce the knowledge you need of their whereabouts.
Where the person lives some distance away from you, then a letter will probably be the best form of initial contact.
A telephone call is not so good, as it comes as rather a surprise, is only semi-personal, and you may catch them at a moment when they do not have the time to talk.
E-mails are not good in that they appear abrupt, and tend to be rather brief and to the point.
Indeed for a variety of wrongs, writing a letter is sometimes the best form of initial contact, and in it you may both explain and apologise and then go on to offer to come and see them and say it face to face.
Personal confrontation, although harder, is actually better at conveying the reality of what you have come to feel.
3.6 Wait for it to be real
Sometimes a friend may say, "You really ought to go and say sorry," or a pastor might say to a new member of their church, "Well, I think you really ought to go and put it right."
What can then follow is an artificial apology, "I was told I ought to come and...." which isn't real and isn't the heart that needs to be expressed if healing and reconciliation are to be genuinely brought.
If you are a Christian and you have read through this page and concluded that you do have an issue you need to put right, then pray about it first.
Don't be hasty but instead seek God, ask for grace and wisdom and then proceed gently and in humility, seeking the best for the person you wronged.
If you have a close friend who can stand alongside you if it's a big issue, to help you see it through, all the better.