Forgiveness: What is Forgiveness?

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I love listening to podcasts. I’ve found that no matter what mood I’m in, I can find a podcast to suit the mood. The subjects in my podcast feed range from leadership to religious studies to folklore to fiction. Honestly, it’s become part of my health routine. I download a podcast and walk while I listen, much of the time listening to audiobooks or podcasts that relate to my studies. Usually, I can get in half of my ten thousand steps per day with an hour’s walking and listening.

Just before the Christmas season kicked off in October, a podcast caught my eye. It caught my eye because it was on a religious topic, perhaps the religious topic, but was by someone with little to no professional religious training or expertise. It’s called The Gift of Forgiveness and it’s hosted by Katherine Pratt. The podcast is simple: people tell their stories about forgiving the wrongs in their lives and share what they have learned from it. Some of the interviews are about things you would expect some not so much. But all of them one thing in common: everyone has found a way to forgive those who have wronged them. Despite some of those things being as horrific as losing a family to a drunk driver or being a member of the Tutsi tribe during the easter season of 1994 when the Hutu tribe in Rwanda tried to exterminate them, the people telling the stories try and continue to offer forgiveness. Sometimes they can and other times it’s still a struggle. 

Forgiveness is a cornerstone and hallmark of the Christian faith. Our understanding of salvation and our practice of Jesus’ Way is tied to this concept and yet we often misunderstand it, adding it to many Christian buzzwords that are often thrown around but never considered seriously. The New Testament word for forgive carries a different meaning in English than you might expect. The Greek word translated is “send away, dismiss, suffer to depart…to omit, pass over or by; to let alone.” If you reread the verses with this in mind they would read,

Omit the ways others have wronged you, just as we should also dismiss the ways others have wronged us. And don’t lead us into temptation but rescue us from the evil one.

If you omit the things others owe you, God will also dismiss what you owe God. But if you don’t omit the things others owe you, neither will God dismiss what you owe God.

This helps us begin to understand a deeper meaning. Forgiveness is a “rupture in a relationship” that has been healed when we omit or dismiss the ways others have wronged us. I think for many of us this idea of omitting or dismissing may be a hard one to swallow. It flies in the face of our ideas of justice and rightness, of the other person being made to answer for having wronged us. In that case, maybe we should put it another way. Forgiveness requires that we recognize brokenness in ourselves and in other people. When we recognize this brokenness in ourselves, we can see the need we have to be forgiven. When we recognize brokenness in others—with the compassion God intends us to have—we can offer forgiveness to them. The late Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote, “In our own ways, we are all broken. Out of that brokenness we hurt others. Forgiveness is the journey we take toward healing the broken parts. It is how we become whole again.” 

I think of the ways we are damaged like various kinds of cuts. Some are just small scratches that are irritating in the moment, but we forget about within a few minutes. Some are like papercuts, the really don’t hurt much unless you move just the wrong way or get something else on them. Some are more direct, either cuts or even wounds. Overtime, if not attended to, the small variety can get bigger and the bigger variety can be nearly unbearable. Forgiveness becomes part of the ointment we use to heal the wounds before they get out of hand. Without it, we may find a simple scratch becoming a major wound. 

With that in mind, it might be good to consider some practical means. I hope to sprinkle several of these methods throughout the sermon series to give us some tools at our disposal. Adam Hamilton, in his book simply titled Forgiveness, offers a method he calls RAPS. The RAPS method might enlighten us on one way we begin the process of forgiveness. The method calls us to,

  • Remember our shortcomings
  • Assume the best
  • Pray for God’s blessing for the other
  • Seek to understand the other

This is a practice. You won’t get all this right all the time and it will take time and effort to learn to use these tools. But thinking about these things anytime we are wronged by another person gives us a head start on forgiving others. If we make this kind of thinking a part of our preparation for the day, we may find some of life’s more aggravating aspects—traffic, people in stores, the internet, fill in the blank here with your own aggravations—a little more bearable and our relationships more fruitful and peaceful.

“The cross teaches us that God can take the pain and suffering of our past, when we put them into his hands, and produce something beautiful…Forgiveness is believing that the future can be better than the past. The past can’t be changed, but God can do something redemptive with it.” Forgiveness becomes a way of restoring the image of God in us—the ability “to love, to reason, to create, to show compassion, to give, to sacrifice.” This ability is how we demonstrate the presence of God in the world, a means of putting the character of God on display. The late Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote, “…there is no thing that cannot be forgiven, and there is no one undeserving of forgiveness.” 

Each of us can think of people or circumstances in our lives where we struggle to forgive. Some of them are scratches and some are scratches on top of scratches that are becoming cuts or wounds. Some are wounds so deep we gasp at the thought of them. Some of them, feel like we can never recover from. Yet each of us, with the help of the Holy Spirit, holds the ability to heal these wounds and it starts with forgiveness. As I said, it is not easy. It will take time. But it is necessary for us to learn in order to live into the way Jesus calls us to walk.


Hamilton, A. (2012). Forgiveness: Finding Peace Through Letting Go. Nashville: Abingdon Press.

Pratt, K. S. (2020). The Gift of Forgiveness: Inspiring Stories from Those Who Have Overcome the Unforgivable. London/Dublin: Penguin Life Books.

Tutu, D., & Tutu, M. (2014). The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World. New York: Harper Collins.