When we think of forgiveness, some hackneyed phrases often come to mind, Yvonne Seidel, dean of the School of Education at Bogenhofen Seminary in Austria, said at the 2023 Generation. Youth. Christ. (GYC) Europe Conference in Riga, Latvia, in August. Some of them are, “Time heals all wounds. Just wait, and you’ll be able to forgive and forget.” “You can only forgive if the person who wronged you asks for forgiveness.” “Only God can truly forgive.” The question is, can we move past those platitudes to truly find what forgiveness is and how to incorporate it in our lives?
“Why should we forgive in the first place?” Seidel asked the group of young people from across Europe that attended her August 10 presentation and workshop.
Once again, some common phrases come to mind. “We hurt ourselves when we don’t forgive.” “If we don’t forgive, we are slaves to the end of our lives.” “Forgiveness opens the door to healing and the opportunity to love again.”
But is it really so? Seidel asked.
Forgiving for Your Own Good?
In our day, forgiving has become very popular, Seidel acknowledged. “Just do it for your own good,” the message goes. Seidel quoted Lebanese-Canadian author and educator Najwa Zebian, who wrote, “Today, I have decided to forgive you, not because you said you are sorry or because you finally understand how much you hurt me, but because my soul deserves to rest now.”
Seidel also mentioned German philosopher and author Svenja Flasspoehler, who wrote, “Forget about revenge and reconciliation. Forgiveness is a form of self-healing. The guilt of the other one remains — you just give up the idea of getting the penalty paid.”
“So, the message is, we forgive ‘because it’s good for me and I just end up better,’ ” Seidel said.
It’s true that if we forgive, we will benefit personally, she said, and there are negative health consequences for those who do not forgive. But those are wrong reasons and motivations to forgive, Seidel emphasized.
Forgiving as We Are Forgiven
Why, then, should we forgive? Seidel asked. “Because it’s God’s character to forgive, and we should become like Him,” she explained. “It is not out of a selfish desire that we want to become Christlike.”
Seidel also emphasized that we have already been forgiven by God. “When we pray for forgiveness, the sacrifice of Jesus becomes effective for us. God’s forgiveness is always there — that’s the covenant, the forgiveness from the foundation of the world. And that’s why it is a matter of God’s honor and His faithfulness to forgive us.” She added, “This is how it works with God. Forgiveness is the one-sided acceptance of the payment already made.”
But if forgiveness is one sided, reconciliation is not. The same God who forgives us opens a path through Jesus to be reconciled with Him. “This is a two-sided willingness of both parties to … make things right again,” Seidel said. “Forgiveness opens the way toward reconciliation.”
An Emotional Response
Being hurt by another person is always accompanied by an emotional response, Seidel emphasized. “Usually hurt is accompanied by humiliation and disappointment, and that is followed by anger, which turns our pride against us.
“We start telling ourselves things such as, ‘They don’t have the right to do this to me!’ ‘That’s not fair!’ ‘Why me of all people?’ ” So, in the process of forgiveness, we must first go past our natural pride to implement a different response, she said.
In that context, Seidel said, forgiveness is independent of other people’s actions. “Forgiveness is independent of whether someone repents or not, whether someone is intentionally evil or not, whether someone is still alive or not, whether someone desires or acknowledges our forgiveness or not,” she said. “Forgiveness is a decision based on the fact that I want to be like Jesus.”
At the same time, forgiveness does not mean forgetting, and it does not mean that we have to trust the offender again as we used to do before they hurt us. It does not necessarily mean that I have to build a friendly relationship with the offender, and it does not mean that I need to have reconciliation. But it means that I make a conscious decision of letting it go beyond my natural emotional response.
The Process of Forgiveness
While there are various ways of explaining how forgiveness takes place, Seidel shared what makes more sense to her. She described the process as a ladder with three steps.
“Forgiveness begins with the fact that we give everything to God,” she said. In practice, “we bring everything that hurt us back to God and we ask Him to help us, because we remember we are all created and loved alike. The person who hurt us was created in the image of God, even if that image has been distorted by sin.”
As a second step, Seidel suggested trusting God’s justice. “Trust His justice to make every wrong right,” she said. “Sometimes, things are not made right immediately … but I need to trust God that He will make all things right in the end.”
Finally, Seidel shared that the third step is wanting our offender “to receive mercy instead of justice,” Seidel emphasized. “That’s the final act of forgiveness.”
Seidel closed with a quote of Ellen G. White in The Desire of Ages (p. 301), where she wrote, “The difficulties we have to encounter may be very much lessened by that meekness which hides itself in Christ. If we possess the humility of our Master, we shall rise above the slights, the rebuffs, the annoyances, to which we are daily exposed, and they will cease to cast a gloom over the spirit.” Seidel read further, “The highest evidence of nobility in a Christian is self-control. He who under abuse or cruelty fails to maintain a calm and trustful spirit robs God of His right to reveal in him His own perfection of character. Lowliness of heart is the strength that gives victory to the followers of Christ; it is the token of their connection with the courts above.”
Generation. Youth. Christ. (GYC) is a youth-led organization that supports the spiritual mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, but is an independent supporting ministry not controlled by or legally affiliated with the church.