Surprise, Christians! Forgiveness is Not What You Think It Is

*In video, Tyler Perry speaks with Dr. Phil about the power of forgiving people and shares his own personal story.

Forgiving people is harder than learning string theory.

That is because we have been taught, erroneously, that we are to dish out quick fix forgiveness to abusers, liars, killers, and bad politicians…as soon as they hurt us.

But what does God have to say about forgiveness and is there a science to it?

The International Forgiveness Institute at the University of Wisconsin at Madison advises this: we should distinguish between forgiveness that refers to an individual’s moral response to an injustice suffered, and reconciliation that refers to two or more parties coming together in mutual respect.[The Science of Forgiveness by Katheryn Rhoads Meek-PDF]

IMHO, there are special cases where you should just forgive right away anyhow:

You never see the person again.

They never repent to you.

They are dead.

In those cases, just forgive anyway to set yourself free.

Outside of those, there are two kinds of forgiveness.

  • Spiritual Forgiveness(Vertical Forgiveness)
  • Relational(Horizontal Forgiveness)

Let me explain.

When Jesus taught us the Lord ’s Prayer, that was vertical. That is going up to God. “Lord forgive us of our trespasses and those who trespass against us…”(Matthew 6:9)

But when we literally, physically or verbally assault people, we have to ask for their forgiveness and it is up to the victim to grant it according to the process outlined in Scripture.

Spiritual Forgiveness(Asking God for forgiveness)

This kind of forgiveness is vertical.

Straight from you to God.

In 2 Samuel 12:13, David cries out to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Of course he was confessing what he done to Bathsheba and how he plotted her hubby’s demise.

And that part singes me because he did not apologize to her. And he couldn’t apologize to Uriah, her husband.

Uriah was resting in peace.

Anyway, the idea here is that you confess to God for those personal things.

  • One example of confessing to God is when you hold hatred in your heart for someone.
  • Or you have lusted in your heart for a man who is not yours.

You confess to God on those terms.

If you actually “do” something about those thoughts, you will have to have that relational confession going on.

Relational Forgiveness(Forgiving Others)

Forgiving people is not easy. And it is especially hard when someone hurts you and never apologizes, or worse yet– tell you the situation is “squashed” and to forget about it. has the perfect example for relational forgiveness. “A godly father will forgive his son, but a good relationship can only be achieved once the child confesses.

Scripture shows how this can occur.

  • In Luke 17:3-4 it says, “If your brother sins, rebuke him.”
  • And continues, “And if he repents, forgive him.”
  • If he sins against you seven times in a day and says, ‘I repent’, “forgive him.”

And what is so funny is that after Jesus says this, the apostles say to Jesus, “Increase our faith!”

I would say the same thing.

Think about Genesis 50:17-18.

You see, Joseph’s brothers threw him in a ditch…you know the story. They left him for dead. Read it for yourself, you will like that one.

But later Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt needing help and he throws them in jail for a little while.

He let them “burn” a little in their spirits and then his brothers came to him to ask for forgiveness for what they’ve done and the relationship was restored.

What am I saying?

I am saying that Joseph was hurt, but what the enemy intended for bad, good came of it. Whether his brothers would have shown up or not.

Yet, Joseph still wanted that apology from his brothers or obviously he would not have put them in jail. It was a lesson worth learning.

Conclusively, this is what forgiveness looks like:

  • When you sin against God, you must confess to Him, this continues a right relationship with our Creator.
  • Jesus died for our sins but confessing those we commit against God, is good for our soul.
  • When we hurt people, the mature, wise thing to do is ask for forgiveness according to Luke 17:3
  • And we are to grant that forgiveness because this is how relationships are restored and made whole again.
  • God is a God of restoration and healing. Not of holding on to things and sweeping them under a rug.

Any further thoughts or understanding on this topic? We’d love to hear from you!

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