Thursday, April 4, 2013

Forgiveness as an act of worship

Forgiveness can be seen in different ways, as having different functions. One function of forgiveness is to pardon the offender. Another is to provide release/healing for the injured party. But recently I've been caught by the idea that forgiveness is essentially an act of worship toward God. Like any act of worship, it helps us gain the right perspective, and put/keep ourselves in our rightful place... a position of humility, love, and dependence on grace.

Worship, I learned in a class once upon a time, is ascribing worth. We can ascribe worth to - worship - God, others, self. Oh yeah, or stuff (a.k.a. 'idols'). False worship happens when we ascribe worth inaccurately, or inappropriately.... or in more christianese language, 'idolatry' happens when we love and place our trust in something/one that cannot/should not be the object of such love and trust. Well geez, when I put it that way, idolatry is such a huge problem in life! It happens all the time. I won't speak for anyone else at this point, but I know for me, the most common misplaced worship is probably of myself. Which is why thinking about forgiveness as worship (of God) has challenged and helped me in this area.

One more quick note on worship as ascribing worth to God/self/others/objects/ideas/whatever else... these are all about relationships. How we worship tells us a lot about our relationships with God/self/others/etc... (yes, even stuff).

And it's always in the context of relationships that forgiveness needs to and does take place. So, worship and forgiveness are both relational.

Going back to the idea that true worship is about accurately ascribing worth... this implies that worship requires humility. And guess what. Forgiveness definitely requires humility. (If you've ever tried forgiving, you know this already.) In forgiveness, as in true worship, we are choosing to have an accurate view of self, others, & God. Because in the act of forgiveness (and I think this is why it sometimes takes me so long to get there), I have to admit that the person who wronged me is no worse than I am, that I am no better than s/he. We both are human. We both are flawed. We both have the capacity to harm others, and we both do, albeit perhaps in different ways. And we both are dependent creatures, needing the love & grace of God. And (good news!) we both are able and free to access and further God's grace and love.

From my journal reflections on forgiveness and what I've learned:
~Forgiveness means letting go... of control, of excuses, of the need to be right, of rights, of self-justification, of anger, hatred, holding grudges, judging, and condemning.
~Forgiveness means trusting God... for justice, for mercy, for convicting, for healing, for holding everything together when I'm completely powerless and out of control.
~Forgiveness means acknowledging... God as God; myself as human; myself and other humans as limited and imperfect and sinful, but also as needy, conditioned to act certain ways, yet with potential to change and act differently.

A violation in relationship is also an opportunity - forgiveness allows one person to give grace and another to receive it. And Jesus's teachings (e.g. Mt. 18:21-35) make clear that in order to give grace you have to have received it, and in order to truly receive grace you have to give it.


I'm guessing someone who reads this might have a question about evil, unforgivable people/acts/situations. Or maybe other more challenging aspects of forgiveness. If you do have ideas about this or any other aspect of forgiveness, please share.