Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
In 1711, the English Poet Alexander Pope wrote the poem “An Essay on Criticism”, in which he made the statement, “Good nature and good sense must ever join; To err is human, to forgive divine.”
Since that time there have been several interesting variations on Pope’s statement:
- Dog lovers claim: “To err is human; to forgive canine.”
- Mae West was once quoted as saying, “To err is human, but it feels divine.”
- For anyone who works with computers today, you’ll agree to: “To err is human–but to really mess things up you need a computer.”
- Someone wisely observed, “To err is human, and to cover it up is too!”
But the Bible says something quite different. It pulls you up with a start. Colossians 3:12-13 (The Voice), written by the Apostle Paul, says:
Clothe yourselves with a holy way of life: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Put up with one another. Forgive. Pardon any offences against one another, as the Lord has pardoned you.
Forgiving Goes Against Our Nature
That goes against the grain because we’re not usually ready to forgive someone who has hurt or upset us. Can you think of anyone at this moment who hurt you so deeply you are struggling with being able to forgive them? It may be an ex-spouse, or a former boss, or a family member with whom you are currently estranged. It can be anyone with whom you’ve had a falling out. You don’t like the situation, and you may not know what to do about it. But forgive them? That’s another story.
You may object: I don’t feel like forgiving them. That’s okay, because God commands us to forgive those who sin against us, whether or not we feel like forgiving them. If you wait until you ‘feel like’ forgiving that person, you may never get around to forgiving them.
Forgiveness is not a feeling—it’s a decision.
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Like agape love, forgiveness is not a feeling—it’s a decision. A maturing Christian does not live by feelings, but by faith and obedience. Forgiveness is not a natural human trait. William Willimon wrote:
The human animal is not supposed to be good at forgiveness. Forgiveness is not some innate, natural human emotion. Vengeance, retribution, violence, these are natural human qualities. It is natural for the human animal to snarl and crouch into a defensive position when attacked, to howl when wronged, to bite back when bitten. Forgiveness is not natural.
Forgiving Requires a Decision
When John Wesley was a missionary in colonial America, he met General James Oglethorpe, Governor of Georgia. As they discussed one of the governor’s enemies, General Oglethorpe said, “I never forget and I never forgive.” To which John Wesley replied, “Then, sir, I hope you never sin.”
The only person who can afford the luxury of unforgiveness is the person who never needs forgiveness. And we all need God’s forgiveness for the wrong we have done. No-one is perfect. Let me be clear by saying: Forgiveness is not forgetting—it’s an intentional release.
Forgiveness is not forgetting—it’s an intentional release.
We’ve all heard the phrase ‘forgive and forget’. That’s misleading because forgiveness is not the same thing as forgetting. Or perhaps you’ve heard someone say, Well, I’ll forgive, but I won’t forget! What they really are saying is, I’m going to say ‘you’re forgiven’ but I’m going to actively remember what you did to me and I’ll remind myself of it every time I hear your name!
That’s not real forgiveness. Forgetting is a passive process in which a matter fades from our memory with the passing of time. We all forget things like names, telephone numbers, and birthdays—men, we can even forget our wife’s birthday.
But how interesting that we forget all things, many things, but we have total recall when it comes to how other people mistreated us.
(To be continued in To Err Is Human—Forgiveness Is Divine – Part 2)