The Christian discipline of forgiveness

I’ve been thinking, periodically, about the whole question of repentance and forgiveness ever since Hap’s post a couple months ago on the Emerging Women blog; and so I was interested, in dropping in on Dr. Stackhouse’s blog this morning, to see that he began his reflections on Advent this year with that very theme. It’s supposed to be the first post in a two-part series; the second part isn’t up yet, but there’s more than enough to think about already. I particularly appreciated this section:

Repenting and forgiving are not pretending the past didn’t happen and that what seemed evil is somehow okay. Repentance and forgiveness name what was wrong as wrong. If it weren’t wrong, it wouldn’t need repenting of and forgiving! Repentance and forgiveness also do not pretend the future will be sunny and that there will be no repetition of wrong. You may have noticed that people generally don’t become perfect after a single round of repentance and forgiveness. Jesus tells us to forgive the same person seven times in a single day to make hyperbolically clear that a single episode of repentance and forgiveness may not be the end of it.

and this one:

To forgive the offender is to give a great gift. It cuts the offender free from the Jacob Marley-like shackles of past sins. It gives the offender a fresh start. It does not “re-member” the past sins by repeatedly bringing them up again and fastening them afresh to the present person. It leaves the past in the past, and lets people go ahead into the future. But “forgive and forget” is bad advice, and on two counts. First, one can’t do it. Second, one shouldn’t. Refusing to pretend as if the past didn’t happen instead helps us act realistically to maximize shalom for everyone involved.

I like that—remembering as “re-membering,” taking the the wrongs others have done us in the past and giving them new bodies (as it were) in the present, giving them new life to cause hurt all over again. Thus Dr. Stackhouse concludes,

So let us repent and let us forgive, and neither forget nor re-member. In that paradox is the path of a hopeful, healthful future.

That’s the idea in a nutshell, except that I don’t think it’s a paradox, really, just a middle way: the way of acknowledging the past but not living there, letting it be the past and not the present.

Posted in Discipleship, Relationships, Religion and theology.


  1. Wow, good stuff, Rob. Very good stuff.

    I love that idea of “maximizing Shalom” for everyone involved… I’ll be thinking that one over for a bit.

    Praying for you and Sara this weekend, that shalom would be tangible to/in your hearts as you say your goodbyes and step forward into this next season of ministry.

    love you, friend.

  2. Yeah, me too (though I just realized, I didn’t comment on that; maybe more in a follow-up post). Thanks for the good words, and we’ll be seeing you soon, I’m sure. 🙂

  3. Pingback: Forgiveness, repentance, and the Gordian knot | Wholly Living

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