The young woman stood face to face, not only with the judge, but with her victims. She was just a teenager, but was already into a life of crime. One of her victims was an eighty-five year old widow who had lost a number of personal treasures as this girl, along with her friends had burglarized the widow’s home. When the judge asked if any of the victims would like to speak, the widow stood to her feet and said, “Young lady,I want you to know that I forgive you. And I’ll bet you don’t have a grandmother who prays for you. Well, I want to be that grandmother.”

There is probably no one who has any greater potential to put forgiveness to use than a pastor. It is simply a given- you will be misunderstood, falsely accused, and unfairly judged, most likely by those you pour your very heart and life into! And no matter how deep the hurt is, we are called to forgive.

What is forgiveness? We all know that basically, forgiveness is “letting the offense go”. We often believe that when someone offends us, they have taken something from us and have become indebted to us. That’s why we say, “that person owes me an apology!” And sometimes even after we get an apology, we still want them to pay! I sadly confess there was a time in my own life that my prayer was that God would “straighten them up, even if it means bringing a tragedy into their lives to wake them up!”

Forgiveness withheld is like drinking poison and waiting for the offender to die.

Pastor and author Timothy Keller, however, takes us beyond the “letting go” part of forgiveness. He says, “Forgiveness is a form of voluntary suffering… To forgive is to cancel a debt by paying it or absorbing it yourself. Someone always pays every debt.

So when we have been sinned against, we have a choice: We can strike back (or like I did, ask God to strike back on our behalf), or we can forgive and absorb the damage to our own reputation (we will have to restore it over time).

An old Amish proverb says, “Forgiveness withheld is like drinking poison and waiting for the offender to die.” Forgiveness has more to do with the offended rather than the offender. This is why the scripture says, “Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, ‘I will take revenge; I will pay them back,’ says the LORD” (Romans 12:19 NLT). Taking revenge is finding ways, whether little or great, to pay the other person back- “give them a taste of their own medicine!” In contrast, forgiveness is paying their debt as God has paid our debt. When we have been deeply wounded, we tend to forget that Jesus taught us to ask God to forgive our debts as we forgive others (Matthew 6:12). Of course, the implication is that there is a hindrance to receiving forgiveness ourselves if we refuse to forgive others.

Here’s a question to consider: What offense is standing in the way of my total freedom because I have not been willing to fully and completely forgive?