Love, Forgiveness & Restoration
One of these things is not like the other.
How can that be? You might ask. It’s true, though. Two of these can be done solo. One can not.
One of my favorite sayings is “Love is a decision.” It’s not the sexy Valentine’s Day way to think about love, but it is true. One need only read 1 Corinthians 13 to see that love is not described as falling head over heels for someone or having your heart flutter and skip a beat when they enter the room. Love is work.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
I have recited parts of this chapter for a good portion of my life, but it wasn’t until today that I realized that this could be entirely one-sided. I started off thinking that only forgiveness could be one-sided and planned this great reveal for the end of my post.
But I was wrong.
Love. Is. A. Decision. God’s love – Agape love – the love we are supposed to emulate – the kind of love described in this chapter is about what WE are expected to do. This chapter does not differentiate, qualify, or even mention what the person we are to love does in return. It is only our part.
Forgiveness, like love, is one-sided. We are commanded to Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:32 Once again, this is not an “if-then” statement. We are to forgive as God forgave us. What does that really mean? Yes, of course, God forgave us, and we should forgive others. But have we ever stopped to consider the magnitude of this directive? I can point to all the things people did in the Bible and feel pretty good about the fact that I never murdered anyone, I never stole someone’s spouse, or cheated on my husband. But that’s about all I haven’t done.
I have a lot God has forgiven.
“I’m sorry means I’m not going to do it again,” is another favorite saying of mine. But, if I’m honest, how many times have I apologized to God, asked for His forgiveness, and then turned right around and did the same thing again another way? But God didn’t qualify His forgiveness. Instead, he gave it at the cross before I was ever born before I could repeat the same mistakes, knowing that I would never be able to earn it.
Forgiveness is also a decision.
I can forgive whether or not the other party is sorry for what they have done. My forgiveness is not dependent on a change in their behavior. We are commanded to forgive as we are commanded to love. Perhaps we are commanded to forgive so that we can go on loving as Christ loves us. Maybe it is the grace we need to continue loving so that we do not hold on to the pain of unforgiveness. Forgiveness is a gift to the lover always and only sometimes to the loved – if they ask for it.
When I was a child, I thought that forgiveness and restoration were the same. You forgive them, and then you let them back in your life. That’s not the case. You can forgive and never have the relationship restored. Love is God’s command and your decision. Forgiveness is God’s command and your healing. Restoration, however, takes two.
I may choose to forgive someone and then allow them back in, but if the forgiven party continues to hurt me and I continue to “forgive” – that is not restoration – that is abuse. God does not call us to allow people to abuse us with impunity. If our bodies are the temple of the Lord, and we should do nothing to harm ourselves, then that means that we should not allow others to harm our mind, body, or spirit either. Forgiveness is for the forgiver. Restoration is for both.
It Takes Two
Restoration requires love, forgiveness, AND repentance. Only the repentant can be restored. When we look to the Bible for stories of restoration, they all begin with the person who has done wrong humbly admitting their mistakes, apologizing to the person they hurt, and asking for forgiveness. Whether we read about the prodigal son, King David, or Zaccheus, we see that they had to acknowledge their wrongdoing first and then work to make amends.
Hope For Healing
Restoration takes courage, but the Bible gives us hope for healing. The power of the love and forgiveness that Esau showed Jacob and Joseph showed his brothers is proof that even when we may feel that we have wounded someone so deeply that we are irredeemable, the power of love can overcome our faults if we change our ways.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.