Many years ago now I was alone in a room in the dark with someone who was dying. I had hurt him a lot in the past, and he had hurt me, too. We didn’t say a word for a long time, and then I broke the silence, lying on my back and looking up into the blackness: “Will you forgive me?” After a few seconds, he replied, looking straight up, too: “Yes. Will you forgive me?”
Neither of us had to explain; we both knew what we meant by this.
The man is long gone, and I am not proud to say that though I intended to, I have not always kept my promise to him. There were times that I rehashed the past, both to myself and to others, resurrecting the old grievances I had against that man.
The question of forgiveness seems to be a perennial one in the church. We have seminars on it and discuss exactly what it is and how to do it. We have conversations about forgiveness as if it is a difficult concept that we need experts to help us understand.
But at this moment, all that talk seems rather disingenuous. I can see clearly now that when I told that man I forgave him, he and I both took it to mean that we would not bring it up again, ever—not to another party and not even in our own hearts. And that if the bad feelings were to come up in our hearts, we would rebuke them on the spot and not entertain them.
At the most basic level that a child can understand, to forgive is simply to keep your promise. If you tell a person you forgive him, then you have obligated yourself to never raise the matter again. And as for the struggle you may feel now and then when you are tempted to mention the forgiven acts, it is the debt that you agreed to take on. You suck it up yourself, between you and God, because Jesus did that for you, too. It is the dying to self that Jesus expected of any follower when he said, “Take up your cross and follow me.”