Four Faces of Forgiveness
Reflections amid the heat of the 2008 Kenyan political crisis
The main purpose of this national prayer is to bring all Kenyans together to forgive one another, embrace a spirit of brotherhood, forge forward, and uphold unity—regardless of political stance, religion, tribe, or social class.
As most of us know, forgiveness usually comes after the fragile fabric of peace is stretched beyond elastic limit. In this state of affairs, families, homes, nations, or individuals tend to become filled with rage and confusion, calling for revenge to the offenders in the greatest degree we can imagine. However, amid the chaos, pent-up anger, and confusion that characterize such heated situations, we should go back to sanity and see what we can do in the context of total forgiveness.
How do I forgive? Do I really have to forgive and forget?
As Christians, we have the challenge and responsibility of going by Christ’s example, especially on the subject of forgiveness. When we do this, we will stand out as pillars of hope and peace when such qualities are most needed—in our families, in our schools, in our communities, in our countries.
So I find it important to consider the following four faces of forgiveness in our struggle to achieve reconciliation.
1. Centered on Repentance
“‘And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors’” (Matt. 6:12).
Turning from sin toward God in order to trust, love, and obey Him is called repentance. The effects of sin are quite plain, and wherever sin abounds, the fabric of peace is likely to be distorted, which calls for forgiveness. Repentance means a change of heart, a change of viewpoint, a change of attitude—when that happens, we stop brooding over our own feelings of hatred and desperation. Vengefulness disappears from our hearts, and in its place we experience a refreshing wave of joy and love.
As no man remains an island, we have to coexist harmoniously with those around us—our families, communities, and schools—as well as with those outside the borders of our countries.
Each time we contemplate forgiveness, we should ask ourselves this important question: “How can I have a change of heart about something that’s bothering me so much?” Our Father in heaven is willing to forgive us in equal proportions as we forgive “those who trespass against us.”
2. Centered on Christ’s Authority
“‘The Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins’” (Mark 2:10).
The Bible is quite clear about the ability and power of Christ to forgive. By the sinful nature that we possess, we are always tainted with sin every day. In like manner, we are called upon to forgive our enemies for what they have done to us. Each time we forgive, Heaven is pleased, because we thereby implement and uphold an action started by Christ Himself.
Christ’s ability to change our hearts sets us on the right path to exercise forgiveness among ourselves here on earth. This is because all three Powers of heaven are available to help us do this. Christ has the authority to forgive the gravest of sins (Mark 2:10). We, following His example, can do the same for our brothers and sisters who need our forgiveness.
3. Built on the Willingness of the Offender
“‘For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you’” (Matt. 6:14, 15).
In the general context, we are all sinners in this world, owing to the sinful nature we possess (Rom. 3:12). It is the reason we need to renew our commitment to God on a daily basis, so He can bestow upon us His Holy Spirit to help us overcome the temptations we live with. As no man remains an island, we have to coexist harmoniously with those around us—our families, communities, and schools—as well as with those outside the borders of our countries.
This peaceful living together comes about when calm is continuously restored by exercising forgiveness. As much as this is desirable, however, forgiveness remains a give-and-take affair. It cannot take place when the offender is not willing to take the offer. For forgiveness to work out effectively, we need to be receptive enough to allow for the healing oil of repentance to soften and smooth our hearts as we reflect on the willingness of our heavenly Father to forgive us even when we don’t deserve it.
4. Anchored on God’s Total Forgiveness
“He will again have compassion on us, and will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19).
By virtue of being omniscient, God is also all-forgiving. For this reason, He has given the admonition that He will tread our sins underfoot and forget the weight of our iniquities forever. Thomas Brooks, the seventeenth-century nonconformist preacher, who also served as a chaplain in the English civil war, said that “saving grace makes a man as willing to leave his lusts as a slave is willing to leave his galley, or a prisoner his dungeon, or a thief his bolts, or a beggar his rags.”*
In view of our current situation in the world, the saving grace that God has given us through Jesus Christ should keep our hopes burning bright in the hope of our eternal liberation. Total forgiveness—which only our Father in heaven can give us—is possible with us in the horizontal dimension also. Even so, we might be willing to forgive, but not really know how to do it. That is why we need to keep open the lines of communication between God and ourselves. In our walk with God, we should allow His Spirit to transform our minds so we can adopt the culture of instant, unconditional forgiveness of others, just the same way we would want to be forgiven.
We should not, out of pride or arrogance, exercise our “authority as Christians” (so to speak) to stop God’s saving grace from flowing to certain people because of their race or color or tribe. United in Christ as children of God, we should avoid becoming heartless and preventing others from receiving the gospel. “Unforgiveness” is a sin we should shun. Instead our prayer should be to emulate Christ’s example of forgiveness, for many times the offenders “do not actually know what they are doing.”
*The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks, by Thomas Brooks, Alexander Balloch Grosart, chap. 11(“A Cabinet of Jewels”), p. 307.
Phillip Oreso is a freelance writer based in Nairobi, Kenya