Forgiveness, The Meaning of

Forgiveness, The Meaning of

by Rubel Shelly

Published in LoveLines (Sept. 21, 1994)

What It Means To Be Forgiven

She was one of Englandís best-known novelists and secular humanists. Shortly before she died in 1988, in what John Stott calls a "moment of surprising candor," Marghanita Laski said this on television: "What I envy most about you Christians is your forgiveness; I have nobody to forgive me."

The fundamental notion behind the biblical notion of forgiveness is letting go. It is as if a huge policeman chased you down, caught you securely by your collar, and turned you around. Looking into each otherís eyes ó with you scared to death and him firmly in charge ó he smiles and says, "Iím letting you go. Try not to do that again."

Another part of forgiveness is pardon. This time you need to imagine that things have gone much farther than in the scene above. You have been caught, tried, and found guilty. Then youíve had the book thrown at you. You are on death row, sentenced to die, and waiting for the dawn of your final day You hear the ring of footsteps and are gripped with the terror that you are about to be led to your death. When the steps end at your cell door, the warden smiles and says, "You have been pardoned. You are free to leave whenever you wish."

More realisticaly for most of us, perhaps, is the idea of having someone remit or cancel a debt. Suppose your MasterCard statement comes by mail tomorrow. "Oh, no!" you think to yourself. "This has been a tough month, and I canít even make the minimum payment." So you open the bill only to see "Paid in Full" stamped in red across it. There is a note saying you are the lucky winner in a random drawing that pays someoneís bill in its entirely each month. Your face breaks into a broad grin, and the weight of the world is lifted from your shoulders.

Roll all these notions together in one word, and it comes out forgiven.

God has paid your debt with his own funds. He had you "red-handed" and chose to let you go. He has come onto death row with a pardon in hand and announced that you can go free.

Pity the person with no one to forgive her. If you are forgiven, celebrate your good fortune and tell others the wonderful name of your benefactor.

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