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Followers of Jesus are commanded by him to forgive others, even those…especially those…who have wronged us. He commands us to do so, because, when we forgive, especially those who have wronged us terribly, we are most like God.

Forgiveness does not mean that we make believe the injustice never happened, or make light of it. It does not mean we leave ourselves open to abuse. It means we cease harboring ill against the other. We let it go.

Forgiveness does not depend on our ability to bring the other to the same realization. Our forgiveness must commence regardless of the other. We can only make the decision for ourselves to move to the center. We cannot force the other to take that same step. We cannot control the other. We can only control ourselves.

Forgiveness is not for the weak, for it means letting go of our need for justice. It is easier to forgive if we feel some guarantee that justice will be delivered in the near future. But that is not forgiveness.

Forgiveness looks only within, what we can do. It does not think of what should be done to the other.

When we focus on the injustice that has been done, it will become the dominant thought, and so we might be tempted to be God’s instrument of justice, to help things along. That makes forgiveness impossible.

If we call upon God to bring justice, he will begin with us, not with the other. So, we should not call down justice upon the other. The role we have been given is to forgive. Justice is what God will do, mercifully.

When we forgive, we are reminded of the mercy that has been shown to us. When we forgive even the most malicious of acts, we begin to see–only then can we see–how we have been forgiven.

When we forgive, we know God more clearly.

Even when the wrong done to us carries with it such an overpowering sense of malice, when we are filled with disgrace, humiliation, isolation–even then we forgive. Especially then.


When we feel this way, we have the privilege of experiencing something of what Jesus felt–disgrace, humiliation, isolation.

Jesus forgave, and when we forgive, we are most like him.

Following Jesus means forgiving.

Forgiveness is about deciding what kind of person you want to be, what path you will walk, what kind of life you want to live. It is a decision to conform to the image of Christ. That decision is before us moment by moment, and more often than we might think.

Pete Enns, Ph.D.

Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So, The Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works. Tweets at @peteenns.