Breaking the Cycle of Offence

This sermon is based on chapter 8 of ‘Good and Beautiful and Kind’ by Rich Villodas.

At some point, each of us will be hurt by somebody, left, disappointed, betrayed or even suffer violence. When this happens, the options that we have before us are to forgive or not to forgive. Both choices can be painful ones. The kind of forgiveness that we mean is not cheap reconciliation, but a path that is marked by lament, anger, grace and forgiveness. Biblical teaching on forgiveness should not be used to quell anger or disorientation at wrongs that have been done. Forgiveness can be concurrent with rage and grief, and this is something we see in the Psalms.

Forgiveness includes interpersonal and interior elements that need to be held together. Interpersonally, forgiveness is a gift where you recognise the wrongdoing that has occurred but choose to forego retribution and refuse to continue the cycle of offence. The interior component of forgiveness is inner freedom from allowing the wound inflicted to be the primary and permanent point of reference from which we relate to the world.

Jesus’ parable in Matthew 18:21-35 shows somebody who has been forgiven but is unwilling to show forgiveness to others. True freedom is found not just in being forgiven ourselves, but also in forgiving others.

What forgiveness doesn’t mean:

  • Forgiveness Doesn’t Mean Forgetting – When Isaiah 43:25 speaks of God not remembering our sins, this is a metaphor to convey the idea that he doesn’t hold our sins against us. It doesn’t mean he is no longer aware of them! Remembering another’s sins is helpful, especially when the possibility of hurt and abuse is real. It means you can create boundaries to avoid repeat offences. By forgiving, you extricate yourself from the cycle of revenge.
  • Forgiveness Doesn’t Mean There Are No Consequences – Forgiveness and grief are often held together. If you’re feeling the pain of what someone has done, that doesn’t mean you haven’t forgiven the person, it means the wound was deep.
  • Forgiveness Doesn’t Always Mean Reconciliation – The forgiveness we have from God does lead to reconciliation, but in human relationships this isn’t always how it works. Sometimes the person is incapable of a healthy relationship, and other times the wound is so deep that full restoration of relationship is not possible.

Forgiveness is a journey. Sometimes is is demanded immediately in manipulative ways. This prolongs the pain and doesn’t lead to freedom. Forgiveness is a painful redemptive act, and the stages can be similar to the stages of grief: denial (I don’t admit I was hurt); anger (it’s their fault that I’m hurt); bargaining (I set up conditions before I’m ready to forgive), depression (it’s my fault); and acceptance (I look forward to growth from the hurt).

In addition to willingness to forgive, we should be ready to ask for forgiveness. “Will you forgive me” is a difficult thing to say because it is admitting guilt. When we have wronged somebody we should make amends. This includes: (1) listening to and empathising with the other person’s hurt; (2) making a sincere statement of regret and acknowledging harmful actions; (3) making restitution for the pain caused; (4) preventing repetition of the injury.

Forgiveness is at the heart of the gospel. On the cross, Jesus prayed that those who were crucifying him would be forgiven (Luke 23:34). He also preemptively forgave the paralysed man who was brought to him (Matthew 9:2). Our acts of forgiveness flow from his forgiveness of us.