Forgiveness is a good choice

Forgiveness is a good choice

2015. You could be twenty steps away from forgiving someone who has hurt you. Yes, forgiveness is a process.

Twenty steps may seem onerous. It’s a lot of work for busy, occupied people, who are under other stresses without bothering with the ones they would rather forget. 

According to church consultant Dr. John Savage many people have never learned a strategy to forgive. There is advice out there, however.

The International Forgiveness Institute, an organization founded on the scientific research of Dr. Robert Enright and his colleagues at the University of Wisconsin, found that their experience in teaching forgiveness as a psychological health intervention led to the development of a process model of interpersonal forgiving. Dr Enright’s research into forgiveness developed into a series of twenty steps, organized into four phases. Dr Enright’s forgiveness process model is covered in his book, Forgiveness is a Choice.

The process is not rigid. Not everyone will complete the twenty steps but may do only a few.

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The uncovering phase is a time of gaining insight into how the injustice and subsequent injury has affected a person’s own life. This process involves coming to terms with the hurt and uncovering denial. That may be the hardest part.

The decision phase requires an understanding of the nature of forgiveness and a decision to commit to forgiving based on this understanding. The underlying premise of this phase is that forgiveness is and must be a “free choice”.

As Dr Enright stresses, forgiveness is a choice. When it is chosen, it becomes a commitment.

In the Bible, does Jesus say forgiveness is a choice?

It may be difficult to see the language of choice being used in the gospels. Jesus instructs us to forgive in plain terms, but a choice is still implied because Jesus lists a series of actions a person may not take to reconcile in Matthew 18:15-17. This is an actual meeting of offended and offender.

Yet Jesus still teaches for two people to meet privately to sort through an offence (Matthew 18:15).

We are told, in the gospel, to make peace with each other (Matthew 5:23-24). To ‘reconcile’ is to ‘make friendly again after estrangement’ (Oxford dictionary). The concept of choice is important in forgiveness because we consciously decide to do something about an emotional wound or hurt. I think Jesus would agree with the concept of choosing to say yes to forgiveness.

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The work phase involves the actual work of forgiveness. For this, the person offended will work on gaining a more complete understanding of his offender, of himself and of their relationship.

The deepening phase is the soul-searching time in which the person offended finds meaning in the suffering caused by the offense. Even when someone can forgive, he may still experience suffering if the other person is reluctant to go further in the relationship. In this phase of the mode, freedom can be experienced by discovering purpose.

Dr. Savage, a veteran pastor, and trained psychotherapist, offers suggestions for building rapport during the process of forgiveness. Building trust is vital. Match the other person’s ‘language system’ such as body language. Mirror some of other person’s body stance, which lets him know you are connected to each other. Use other person’s language structure.

“You are thinking about what the other person is doing and you bridge to their world,” said Dr savage. To use a biblical comparison, the language of forgiveness is simply, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’.

Why is forgiveness important to God? It matters to God how people treat each other. Some scriptural evidence for this is not to cause others to do wrong (Matthew 18:6-9), especially as hurting someone can lead to out of character behaviors in the offended.

The Bible contains the dynamics of poor and effective inter-personal relationships indicating that God is interested in how we view people and conduct relationships.
Even if the other party or person is unfair or in the wrong, there is a focus in the Bible to forgive as God does. What meaning, therefore, is the cross? While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

By Peter Veugelaers. Published 2015, Faces Magazine, Canterbury/Westland Baptist Association.

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