Why Should I Forgive You?


by Carol Dailey

I was sitting at the kitchen counter making a grocery list, minding my own business, when I heard a distinct voice say, "Unforgiveness is Blasphemy." I quickly turned my head, hoping, I guess, to flag God down, as if I might see him scooting around the corner. But, not surprisingly, he was nowhere in sight. He said no more, and I knew he'd left me to my own musings.

His statement, "Unforgiveness is blasphemy," was unusually concise, even for Him, so I recognized it at once as a formula - a verbal equation which, God knows, my chemistry-turned-English-major mind would pounce upon. Eagerness, however, was not my first reaction. My first response was wariness. "Now why is He speaking to me about forgiveness?' I worried. "What am I going to need to forgive?"

But, as I've said, he'd already left, so I proceeded to ponder his statement. As an identity equation, it was suitable for the substitution of equivalent terms. "OK," I reasoned, "what is an equivalent term for blasphemy?" I settled on (I'm not as concise as He is) "denial of the person and work of Jesus Christ." Plugging in that equivalent term left me with: "Unforgiveness is the denial of the person and work of Jesus Christ."

Really? Could it be that serious? Could it be that when I withhold forgiveness from someone I'm denying that Christ's death is sufficient for sin?

What is forgiveness, anyway? Like so many Christians, I am over-familiar with the word but find its working meaning elusive. Is it not being mad at the offender? Is it being nice to him despite how you feel? Finding myself in most instances that require my forgiving someone unsuccessful in both not being mad and in being nice, I usually resort instead to reminding myself of what forgiveness is not. "It's not condoning," I tell myself. "It's not reconciling; itís not excusing." I rarely get around to figuring out what it is. Luckily for me, God defines forgiveness in Jeremiah, chapter 5. "'Why should I forgive you? Should I not punish them for this?' declares the Lord." [Jere 5:7,9] If you ignore the mismatched pronouns, which I intend to do, the parallel structure of these phrases defines forgiveness as not punishing. Conversely then, "unforgiveness" means to punish. O.K. That makes sense. I can relate. I have been guilty of punishing instead of forgiving. The punishment I select most often is the punishment of my own private, thinking-the-worst-of-someone, mental lists. I don't often act out in visibly unforgiving ways. I'm not likely to hit anyone, yell at someone, or even be outwardly rude. But, in mentally rehearsing records of wrongs, I punish, nonetheless. I am like Alice Wendlekin in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever scribbling down her list of the Herdmans' offenses because, like her, it makes me "feel good to see, in black and white, just how awful they were."

"Unforgiveness is blasphemy," God had said to me that quiet afternoon. My unforgiveness in mentally punishing another for wrongs I believe have been done to me is my declaring that the punishment Christ bore for that person's sin wasn't quite enough and I must add my punishment to it.

Happily, the equation works in reverse. If my unforgiveness denies the sufficiency of the death of Jesus Christ, then my forgiveness proclaims its sufficiency. Each decision to forgive - to forego any action or thought which has punishment as its motive and choose actions which nourish - proclaims that Jesus' punishment was sufficient for all sin and that no additions are needed.

I don't remember if I ever finished the grocery list. But I do remember smiling in delight that afternoon because it was just like him to transform a duty into an honor. It was just like him to convert an obligation into a celebration. Forgiveness is the proclamation of the sufficiency of Christ's work on the cross, my favorite proclamation in all the world. It almost makes me want to have something to forgive, just to do it.