4 Listen, God; we are despised! Turn their insults to us back on their heads and make them like plunder in a captive land. 5 Don’t forgive their iniquity or blot out their sins from your sight. They have thrown insults at the builders! 6 We continued to build the wall. All of it was joined together, and it reached half of its intended height because the people were eager to work. Nehemiah 4:4-6, CEB
We’re striving to get to a place where we can make a conscious choice to our offenders. Well, in actuality, we’d like to be able to extend grace to everyone. In the process of forgiveness, though, it’s a particular type of grace we’re extending. It’s a grace that has strings-attached. I don’t mean strings in the sense of “obligation”, forgiveness doesn’t oblige the offender to do anything. I mean that the grace isn’t cheap, and it doesn’t come without some kind of accountability (even if the offender is completely unaware of this fact).
Forgiveness is an act that, by definition, draws attention to harm done. Forgiveness does not let the offender off the hook. It puts the offender on the hook. It takes the darkness of the offense and puts it in the light. It is exposed. When you forgive, you are acknowledging before God that your offender committed an offense. And then, you’re acknowledging that even though an offense occurred, you’re not going to continue to hold it against them. You’re not ignoring the wrong done. You’re not giving them a “pass”. You’re acknowledging there is nothing about the offense that indicates they’ve earned or deserved forgiveness. You’re forgiving because you’re called to imitate God in extending gifts of grace and mercy. Your offender will benefit from your faith, but not because the wrong is not important, not because it needs to be ignored, and not because they deserve to benefit. They benefit because God is in the business of extending grace and mercy because that’s how things change and we get the opportunity to participate in that mission, even if it hurts.
Justice isn’t ours to give out. We can’t make these people pay. We don’t even know what a “just” punishment might look like. But we also don’t have to pretend like we haven’t been harmed. We don’t have to make excuses. We don’t have to “forget”. We can acknowledge the offensiveness while, at the same time, we dare to believe that offenses aren’t the only things in this world that matter.
We want the hope that comes from knowing that our own offensiveness won’t get the last say in our lives. Let’s at least try (emphasis on try) to make sure that other people’s offensiveness doesn’t get the last say in theirs.