A beautiful way to look at the act of forgiveness is to suggest that we are freeing ourselves from the bonds of those who hurt us. But we can’t forget that to forgive means to set those people free as well.
Grab The Bolt Cutters
This past week I was introduced to the work of Nadia Bolz-Weber (who calls herself “Sarcastic Lutheran” on Facebook). Founding pastor of The House For All Sinners And Saints, Nadia showcases her refreshingly glib, but fantastically profound point of view in little Facebook Video vignettes called Have A Little Faith.
In one of her latest videos, titled “Forgive Assholes” (I can’t help but love it!), Bolz-Weber talks about the struggle to forgive someone in your life. She suggests that when someone does us harm, we are “connected to that mistreatment like a chain”. If we hold onto the harm that was done to us, we aren’t combating evil – we are most likely setting ourselves up to absorb some of that evil, and become like our enemies.
Maybe “forgiveness, rather than being a… way of saying it’s okay,” she says, “is actually a way of wielding bolt cutters and snapping the chain that links us.” It’s a way of saying “what you did was so not okay that I refuse to be connected to it anymore”.
I absolutely love this idea! In particular, it suggests a kind of freedom. A way of letting go of the past, dropping that weight that you’re carrying around with you. And it also clarifies how, if we don’t forgive, what we are actually doing is letting someone control our lives – our moods, our happiness, our Joy – far past the actual act of what that person did in the first place.
Using those “bolt cutters” then, is a way of setting ourselves free of that control – of no longer being tethered to the thing that hurt us, and moving forward with our lives.
As beautiful as that is, however, it’s missing something.
Forgiveness Is A Two Way Street
There is a dangerous side to looking at forgiveness only in the manner above. If taken a certain way, it may imply that forgiveness is not really inclusive of the person you’re actually forgiving. In fact, it could suggest that this is your means of holding power over that person. Of turning the tables, so to speak.
But, while it’s important to realize the freeing power of forgiveness – in very much the eloquent way described – we can’t forget what forgiveness really means.
It doesn’t mean “hey, it’s okay, what you did to me”.
It does mean “hey, I’m setting you free, too”.
After all, those chains you’ve just cut up were connecting that person to you just as much as you were connected to them.
Forgiving A Debt
I look at the act of forgiveness much the same as forgiving a debt.
Think about it – someone has done you wrong. Now that person owes you a debt. They owe you making it right.
Dig a little deeper. When you owe a bank a debt (a mortgage, a car loan, etc), who really has the power in that relationship?
If you look at it that way, isn’t it also possible to see how you could wield power over the person that harmed you by not forgiving them? Particularly in circumstances where that person is genuinely sorry for what they have done?
Shouldn’t that person be set free from that debt? Especially if they’ve made attempts to pay it?
And when you do set that person free, do you really mean it? Not just for you, but for them too?
To use the debt analogy a little more, when you forgive that debt, you can’t treat the person as if they still owe you something. You can’t tack on compounded interest and expect that something is still due you. You already forgave it.
This is why forgiveness can’t just be about you. It is a profound act of granting freedom, not just to yourself, but to another party. It is dangerous to assume it is meant just for you.
Forgiveness: An Empowering Route To Freedom
The idea of taking bolt cutters to the chains of your hurt, your pain, your suffering, what’s weighing you down… it’s incredibly beautiful and empowering. It should be. You should never let someone hold this kind of power over you. In nearly every way, not only is it up to you to break those chains, you absolutely do have those bolt cutters in your possession, even if you don’t know exactly where to find them.
But we can’t forget that the empowering nature of forgiveness isn’t just meant for you – it’s meant for the other person as well. “Empowering” doesn’t mean “overpowering” – it doesn’t mean you get to wield this power only for your benefit.
Where’s the “loving your neighbor” in that?
That being said, I not only loved Nadia Bolz-Weber’s angle on this (it really got my juices flowing and thinking, after all), but I love her style and appreciate the way she sees things. I intend to watch plenty more of her videos, and I recommend you do too.