by Pam Ovwigho
"Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive." Colossians 3:13, ESV
Although the concept of forgiveness dates back to the Old Testament, psychologists and relationship researchers just began studying it a few decades ago. Coming up with a clear, measurable definition presented the first challenge. They found that while we may intuitively know what forgiveness is, defining it is another story. For example, is it a behavior or a feeling or a combination of both? Can we say forgiveness truly occurred even if the relationship no longer continues?
When facing questions like these, it's often helpful to return to the root of word. The Old English word traces back to the Germanic perdonare, defined as giving up the desire or power to punish. It is this definition that matches most closely the meaning used in psychological research:
- Forgiveness is a process (or the result of a process) that involves a change in emotion and attitude regarding an offender. Most scholars view this as an intentional and voluntary process, driven by a deliberate decision to forgive. . . . This process results in decreased motivation to retaliate or maintain estrangement from an offender despite their actions, and requires letting go of negative emotions toward the offender.
The definition clearly points out that forgiveness is an intentional and voluntary choice. This explains why Jesus commands us to forgive. After all, He wouldn't command us to do something that is automatic (like breathing, for example). Often we seem to be waiting for a feeling of forgiveness just to arrive rather than deliberately pursuing it. Thus, a key to moving on is to say, "I choose to forgive you."
But saying it once is often not enough, because the definition also points out that forgiveness is a process. Situations that require forgiveness--such as a parent who neglected you, a friend who betrayed you, or a spouse who cheated--also bring a mix of emotions. You may be angry, sad, hurt, surprised, sickened, bitter, grieved, or depressed. These emotions come in huge ways at first and then may reoccur when you are reminded of the event. Each time you feel the loss, the temptation to retaliate against the other person comes with it. Each time, then, you have the choice to forgive.
Excerpt from Better Relationships, Better Life. If you enjoyed today's devotional, check out more from goTandem Books.