We don’t need to forgive every time we feel offended. This statement may shock some people and relieve others. I am not saying that any offense is too great to forgive. What I am saying, however, is that sometimes our experience of feeling hurt is really more about our perception. Proverbs 19:11 says, “A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.” Biblical forgiveness is always in the context of sin. But if there is no sin, there is no need to forgive.
There are four things that we don’t forgive:
- We don’t forgive miscommunication; we seek clarification. Sometimes we take offense because there has been a misunderstanding. Before assuming the other person intended harm, it is prudent to make sure that there is clear understanding. For example, your friend doesn’t show up for lunch at Panera Bread as planned. Don’t get angry, assuming that your friend has ditched you. Instead, exercise patience by putting your feelings on hold until you find out the reason he didn’t show. Maybe your friend was waiting for you at the restaurant on 1st while you were waiting at the one on 31st St. This would be a miscommunication, not an intentional offense.
- We don’t forgive unrealistic expectations; we lower our expectations. Getting angry because someone doesn’t do what we expect may not be warranted. Suppose, in the above example, your friend doesn’t show up for lunch. If he was stuck in traffic with a dead cell phone, meeting for lunch would now be an unrealistic expectation. There could be many reasons that make your expectations unrealistic. So find out the reason for the change before deciding that the actions are offensive.
- We don’t forgive accidents; we overlook them. Let’s imagine that you and your friend are eating at a restaurant and he accidently squirts ketchup on your shirt. Is this an issue that needs forgiveness? It might feel like it if it was your favorite shirt. It also might feel like it if your friend is prone to being clumsy. However, an accident is not an intention to harm. There are “accidents” that are due to neglect or not paying attention, but most accidents simply just happen and the better response is to overlook it and not take it personally.
- We don’t forgive when the issue is our own selfishness; we gain humility. Sometimes we take offense when things aren’t going our way. Suppose you were going out to eat with a group of friends and everyone makes a suggestion of where to go. Your suggestion is overruled by the majority. Have they offended you by not following your suggestion? Do they really need forgiveness? The issue is more about realizing that other people also have preferences and the mature attitude is to go with the flow, regarding others as more valuable than yourself (Philippians 2:3-4). When we value others more than ourselves we show that we are secure in God’s love and can share that love with others.
So what do we forgive? We forgive sin. Remember, biblical forgiveness is always in the context of sin. There are many types of sin besides the Ten Commandments. There is the sin of gossip, slander, lying or rage. There is the sin of crossing boundaries, such as stealing, having sex with someone you aren’t married to, or trespassing. These are sins that hurt. However, there are many “little” sins that are committed daily that we are willing to overlook because they don’t hurt us directly. There are other actions that aren’t sinful but we quickly take up an offense. So try this exercise. Make a list of offenses you have been holding on to. Then review your list of offenses and determine if each offense is due to miscommunication, unrealistic expectations, an accident, your own selfishness, or actual sin. If it is sin, work on forgiveness. If not, remember Proverbs 19:11 and exercise patience with others, overlook the offense and know that heaven is giving you a high five.