Random Blog Clay Feet: May 26, 2008
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Monday, May 26, 2008

Unconditional Repentance

In the last two times I have looked into the issue of forgiveness, I explored what it really means or doesn't mean and the issue of whether or not it must be earned or is unconditional. Now I would like to go a little farther and look at the other side of forgiveness. Why is it necessary for me when I am an offending party to seek forgiveness of one whom I may have hurt or offended. Especially given that true forgiveness is asking a person to take upon themselves the full ownership and responsibility for the pain I have caused them, it seems like an affront or almost absurd for me to ask them to do such a thing for me.

While it is necessary for an offended person to take responsibility for their own pain in order to ever become truly free from it, what is going on in the heart of the offender, the “sinner” who has committed an offense that may have caused irreparable damage to the heart of another?

I can remember as a child growing up being forced to say I was sorry to someone whom I had hurt in some way. Sometimes the “authority” insisted that I also ask for their forgiveness as well. In order to avoid the results of resistance to obvious duress I usually complied with the demands but seldom had any significant sincerity involved. I suspect that most, if not all forced “repentance” routines, do not help anyone experience true repentance or effect the healing results of true forgiveness. These are forced exercises to make externals to appear to accomplish what we want but often end up doing the very opposite. They are really little more than trainings for hypocrisy for everyone involved. The offended party receives little healing or comfort from the forced confession of the offender and the offender learns to comply to demands under duress with little or no change at the heart level.

This scenario may be spruced up and the details refined as we grow older but the main idea of this exercise too often carries over with many of us into adult life. It permeates our whole judicial system, is reflected in the ways we report on events in the world around us in the media and has become the norm for what we look for in public conflict resolution. We may sometimes find people who try to take it to a deeper level but generally the focus is on making things look good on the surface so we can move on with life and pretend that everything is resolved.

Given this culture in our society, what are the important things that I need to know about forgiveness from the offending side of the equation in light of the real truth about forgiveness? I can begin to understand the need for me to forgive others so that I can become free in my own heart, but what are the issues going on for the person who has offended or sinned against others?

One thing I need to note before going any farther is that the person I have offended does not have to wait until I am ready to ask for forgiveness in order to forgive. God has forgiven us long before we even existed – it is never conditional on our desire for it. But on the other hand it certainly can make it easier and an encouragement for them to forgive if the one who offended them comes in a spirit of true humility and remorse asking for their forgiveness. But again, if we apply the new insights into forgiveness to this situation it takes on quite a different aspect.

What is becoming clear is that each person is primarily responsible for their own issues and the condition of their own spirit. But in addition we are also responsible for how we treat others because that is the influence that we are accountable for. So if I have offended someone, even though their own freedom from pain is dependent on their own choices, I am responsible to be honest about how I have contributed to the damage I have caused in another heart. Of course that damage is not always clear depending from what angle a person is looking at the situation, but we must learn to be much more honest about our own faults and sins and the effect that our choices or actions have on others.

Repentance and forgiveness are very closely linked. In a sense they may be just two sides of the same door. To be genuine, forgiveness needs to be unconditional and repentance too, to be effective needs to be unconditional. But true repentance and a real desire for forgiveness can only come about in response to the promptings of the Holy Spirit in the heart that motivates and empowers us to move in that direction. We may be able to generate all sorts of false illusions or feelings that pass off as repentance or reconciliation, but the true versions of these necessary elements of salvation can only be experienced in response to the enabling of the Spirit of the One who created us. To try any other method is to follow a path that is both artificial and external in nature and will leave us with less than effective or satisfactory results.

Quite likely the core reason that I commit an offense in the first place is because of unresolved issues deep in my own heart. Most, if not all sin is an outgrowth of false beliefs and residual effects of internal damage to our spirit that needs to be faced and resolved at the heart level. When I react from my pain by sinning against someone else's heart, I am simply passing on to others the results of pain that I have not dealt with myself and causing more roots to potentially spring up in other lives to be passed on to yet others if not checked by the Spirit of grace.

So part of my need to ask for forgiveness is my need to search for the root causes of why I acted the way I did to cause the offense. I do not believe it is good enough to just say some words and go through some socially acceptable motions in order to accomplish what is needed for true repentance. I not only need to do what is possible to address resolving the other person's pain but I also need to view this as an opportunity to discover a hidden fault within my own heart and receive healing. What is really needed is a mending of relationships, not a setting straight of some balance sheet or a satisfying of some artificial rules somewhere. The real issue is the condition of our relationships and the spirit within us and between us. That is the most important thing to pay attention to in the issue of forgiveness.

So what is the real purpose of seeking forgiveness in this light? It looks to me like the goal of real forgiveness is a reuniting of hearts and a repair of ruptured, damaged relationships. This is the most important aspect of forgiveness; it is to accomplish reconciliation and bonding of hearts together into a unity of spirit in the harmony of love and respect. Anything less than this is artificial and falls short of what our hearts were designed for.

So when I have offended or hurt someone the real issue is the damage in the arena of the spirit. I have wounded someone's spirit and I have great power to assist in healing for that person by recognizing my responsibility in that damage, acknowledge it to that person and seeking for healing and reconciliation with them. But again, this is not primarily for the purpose of satisfying some legal requirement as it is to correctly begin a process of healing, repair and new life in both myself and the person I have hurt.

But what happens if I am truly remorseful for what I have done, I respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and agree with His convictions in my heart (the real meaning of the word “confession”) and seek to make things right with the other wounded party but they are unwilling to accept my offers of reconciliation? What if they refuse to forgive me and reject my apologies? And after all, that only sounds reasonable given the true definition of forgiveness. If I am asking them to accept all the pain I caused them and not hold it against me anymore that is a very stiff request that many are not prepared to accept and even find quite unreasonable. How does that response affect the way I relate to them?

Well, I happen to be in that very situation with at least one person in my life right now. I have grappled with this issue for about a year now and desire to know the truth about this issue. I am coming to realize that I cannot hold myself responsible for the choices that the other person makes as to how they are going to deal with the pain I have caused them. I have done everything I know to do within the tight restrictions of communication that they have put on our relationship to convey to them my deep regrets for the pain I caused them and have asked for their forgiveness. But due to many years of false mentoring by other people in their life and false assumptions about my motives that they refuse to question, they find it very hard to understand that they are in bondage to their own pain as long as they hold me hostage in their mind.

Many people mistakenly believe that if they forgive someone who has hurt or abused them that somehow they will lose some sort of “protection” that unforgiveness seemingly provides their heart. It is another classic lie of Satan residing in our flesh that causes us to believe that if we unconditionally forgive someone for hurting us it gives them blanket permission to come and hurt us again. But again, this notion is based on the false definitions of forgiveness, the legal model of forgiveness that assumes that forgiveness is letting someone off the hook or pretending that the offense was not so bad as the pain we are feeling. Our hearts understandably resist going into denial of our pain and because we may think that is what is involved in forgiveness we refuse to go down that path.

This is very understandable if these false notions about forgiveness were really true. But when we begin to learn the truth about real forgiveness it will be much easier for us to begin exercising it on a more regular basis. The truth is, forgiveness is the only path that we can take to healing and restoration of our souls. All counterfeits will leave us empty and betrayed and need to be avoided. But both forgiveness and repentance are a personal choice that must be taken by the offended party and the offender respectively and not dependent on the other.

I have to personally choose to listen to the convictions of the Holy Spirit, respond to the promptings to face my real issues, take responsibility for the pain I have caused others and do as much as I can to seek reconciliation with them. Beyond that I cannot force the other person to accept my apologies or forgive me if they choose to cling to fears about me no matter how false they may be. I am responsible for my own choices only, but I must also cooperate with the guidance of the Spirit to do all in my power to address the damage that has occurred both in the spirit of those whom I have hurt and in my own spirit as well.

Once we begin to realize the individual responsibility and the separateness of each person's power to determine how they are going to act in this situation, it can be seen more clearly how even if one party dies before healing or reconciliation occurs that the other person can still choose to do their part either to forgive or to repent and seek forgiveness. In that situation God can act in place of the deceased party and provide the response that our heart needs for healing. Thus we do not have to be held hostage to our loss of opportunity for reconciliation that our heart is designed to enjoy.