The other day in my Bible reading plan I was in Proverbs 17, and I came across this passage:
Whoever would foster love covers over an offense, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends. -Proverbs 17:9
The Proverbs are sometimes murky, sometimes humorous, sometimes piercing, sometimes obscure, sometimes strange and just plain hard to understand. However, this one speaks loud and clear, and can be summed up in a single word: “Forgive!”
To be clear, when the proverb writer talks about “covering over an offense”, he isn’t talking about ignoring completely that there has been an offense. Sometimes the things people do to us do hurt us, and we might need to acknowledge that. Nor is he talking about helping someone escape the natural consequences of their offense, if there is a penalty to be paid. The person would learn nothing good from that.
What he is saying is answered in the negative by the second part of the proverb – when you keep bringing it up, you just push people away. Have you ever experienced that? Someone does something wrong against you and you just can’t let go of it? You just keep picking at it and picking at it, looking for… what? Something right? How does that usually work out?
So what does it mean to forgive? How do you properly cover over an offense? Well, let’s look at how God himself deals with us. What does he say? “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” -Psalm 103:12. “For I will forgive their wickedness, and will remember their sins no more” -Jeremiah 31:34. In other words, God chooses to treat us as though the sin had not occurred.
Why, then, does he sometimes still allow us to go through the garbage that our sin heaps onto our own heads? Well, why does a father allow his child to suffer consequences for his wrongdoing once in a while? Is it because he doesn’t love or has not forgiven? Of course not. It’s because he want his child to learn from it, so that his child doesn’t make a bigger mistake in the future. God lets us experience consequences once in a while so that we do not make the bigger mistake of falling away some day.
What are some implications for family life? If your spouse wrongs you, what will you do? Continue to harp on the issue until you get them to do… something? And risk driving that person away? What about your children? When they do wrong, how will you show them that they are forgiven? What about when another family member wrongs you, like a brother or sister, a parent, or a cousin? How can you go about expressing forgiveness in that situation?
The PREPARE/ENRICH program, a system for preparing a growing couples in their marriages, suggests the follow six steps for granting forgiveness:
1. Acknowledge your pain and anger. Allow yourself to feel disrespected.
2. Be specific about your future expectations and limits.
3. Give up your right to “get even,” but insist on being treated better in the future.
4. Let go of blame, resentment, and negativity toward your partner.
5. Communicate your act of forgiveness to your partner
6. Work toward reconciliation
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, gives us this encouragement:
“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” -Ephesians 4:32.