With eyes open to look for them, there are a plethora of Bible verses on the “books” that help families and individuals work through the important process of confession and forgiveness. These passages have inspired generations of Christians, and non-Christians for that matter, work through some of the most overwhelming challenges in life.
The compilation ahead offers seekers some Biblical avenues for further exploration. All of the Bible verses on forgiveness come with a story – a helpful vignette – that affords Christians the opportunity to see how the passages may be applicable to everyday life. If you want to know what the Bible says about forgiveness, look no further.
Forgiveness breaking into our hearts
Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. : Acts 2:38
Dr. “Smith” joined the US Army Reserves in the 1990s out of a desire to quote, “Ease the Suffering that War Causes.” Deployed to Iraq a decade later, his duties were to take care of soldiers in the medical tent, provide supervision and training to eight combat medics, and visit two detainee camps to treat POWs. The work was seven days a week, 12 to 15 hours a day, out West near the border of Iran.
On a Sunday in 2003, the then Lt. Col had what later called his “Holy Humvee moment.” Traveling by convoy to a military hospital in Baghdad, Smith had the unsavory task of accompanying and stabilizing a prisoner suffering from a severe abdominal infection. The whole mission was for the sick one under Smith’s care.
The trip took nearly three days as the convoy encountered constant small arm fire and close encounters with improvised explosive. As “Smith” sat in the back of a Humvee tending to the unconscious POW, a gunner was perched in a turret above, searching the field for snipers, slow moving vehicles.
Motioning for slow drivers to pull to the side, Smith was anxious that the soldier protecting him and the POW was so exposed. Smith felt intermingled pulses of anger and grief fill his body and soul. He asked himself what he thought every soldier in that convoy was asking: Why are we doing this? Why are we doing this for someone we consider our enemy?
That’s when he remembered it was Sunday. He reminisced about the last time he was at mass with his family. The Hymn of the Day returned to him. Surely the presence of the Lord is in this Place. He mouthed the words as the tears fell to his fatigues. It all started to make sense.
It would have been easy for the disciples to shut it down. To pack up their bags, stow away their memories, pat each other on the back and head home. Head home taking their experience of Resurrection, back with them to the quiet hillsides around Nazareth. It would have been so easy for the disciples to turn in toward one another and keep their Jesus encounters and stories to themselves.
After all, he’d been mistreated by so many out beyond the upper room where they had gathered for the supper a few months ago. Even some who’d shared the bread and wine with Jesus, hadn’t been so kind to him when the edges frayed.
They could’ve walked away. Kept the Gospel to themselves, hunkered down and created some sort of monastic community – a little utopia – with limited contacted with the heathens, the others, the World. But as they looked out the windows of their safe house that Sunday, at men and women in their flowing robes, at their mud-walled houses, children at play, the tall and stately palm trees of Jerusalem.
As they looked down at some they may have called enemies, those that may have been ugly to Jesus. As they listened to the languages filling the streets in festival. They realized that God loves these ones too.
It was a Humvee moment. A God moment. The fiery impulse of Pentecost urging them to go out. Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God.
And that’s what they did. Down into the streets. Onward to desolate places, battle-scarred places, places where sickness and hate hold sway.They went out – in all directions – Preaching, teaching, opening hospitals, bringing water, modeling forgiveness, building churches, strengthen family ties, growing the family circle.
We are recipients of the power and passion of Pentecost.
Pentecost urges us to look beyond comfort and look beyond the ordinary. It impels us to hear new voices, to see new possibilities, to speak a new language, to remember that in God’s world, the way things are today, are not necessarily the way they are meant to be forever and ever.
Just when we think we have discipleship all figured out, Pentecost breaks into our lives, disrupting our peace and reminding us that there should be something a little dangerous—a little risky—a little unsettling about the Christian message.
Speeding toward Baghdad, crammed into the back of a Humvee, Lt. Col. Smith sensed the presence of God as he peered through the thick, bulletproof window at Iraqis in their flowing robes, their mud-walled houses, children at play, the tall and stately palm trees. He sensed the presence of God as he looked down at Sunni he’d saved a few days before. And despised only five minutes ago. “God loves this one too,” the good doctor said to himself as the water continued to fall from his cheeks. God loves this one too. And so do I…
John Lewis: A study in forgiveness
Father forgive them for they know not what they do. : Luke 23:24
John Lewis was a young man when he decided to join the leading edge of the civil rights movement of the early 1960s. A devoted Christian and a proponent of nonviolent resistance, Lewis refused to retaliate against those who verbally and physically abused him at Greyhound bus stations and Nashville lunch counters. When asked how he could endure the punches and hateful speech without punching or hating back, Lewis consistently replied, “I tried to remember that my oppressors were once infants.” Innocent, new, not yet jaded by the world.
With criminals at both sides and a host of jeering antagonists below his cross, Jesus is surrounded by profound ugliness and anger. The world expects Jesus to retaliate with stern words and awesome power. An eye for an eye. Instead, Jesus prays for his adversaries, loving them until his last breath; taking his commitment to peace and forgiveness with him to the tomb.
Some laugh. Some scoff. Some realize that Jesus models a better way to live and negotiate conflict. Friends, we have no power to control what people say and do. However, we have complete control over how we respond to the good, bad, and ugly. Choose forgiveness. Choose peace. Choose life. Every person we are quick to list among our shortlist of enemies carries pain we cannot see. See that person as a tiny child… innocent, new, beloved by God.
On stumbling blocks and humility
Reflections on Matthew 18
In his book. Lee: The Last Years, Charles Bracelen Flood reports that after the Civil War, Robert E. Lee visited a Kentucky lady who took him to the remains of a grand old tree in front of her house. There she bitterly cried that its limbs and trunk had been destroyed by Federal artillery fire.
“Look what the Yankees did to my tree,” the woman said despairingly, as she turned to Lee for a word condemning the North or at least sympathizing with her loss. After a brief silence, Lee, scanning the tree and the decimated landscape around it said, “Cut it down, my dear Madam, Cut it down and forget about it.”
Probably not what she was hoping to hear from the General on that Kentucky Afternoon.
But Lee, war-wearied and just ready to get back to Virginia, had no interesting in perpetuating 4 years of costly anger. Lee recognized in the woman what we should all recognize amid our own angry spells. Our inability to process the bad stuff and extend forgiveness to the one who offend us, will eventually devour us.
Said another way, if you desire to move forward, be willing to move on… from the disagreements, the decade long dispute, the awkward family gatherings, the curt phone calls, the stares, the gossip mill, the cutting emails, the Open Secret status updates on Facebook.
The all-out wars. A little further along the road of discipleship, Jesus offers the class some pragmatic advice about dealing with conflict. This presupposes that the 12 and the supporting cast had some brushes with conflict along the way. This was certainly the case.
Matthew reports that a dispute arises among the disciples as to who is the greatest among them. While Matthew doesn’t offer us a lot of detail about the specifics of the argument, we can imagine how it unfolds having been party to similar disputes in our lives. The guys jockey for position.
Minds fixed on the potential spoils of rank and privilege. The Closer to Jesus, they suppose, the bigger the basket of goodies. So they bicker, point fingers, exercise egos, one-up one another. Perhaps a push and a shove along the way. The goodwill and companionship formed through shared experience with Jesus, frays a bit. Clicks form, whispers shared, perhaps old wounds poked, too.
Jesus speaks: (Verse 15) If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you. If the offender still will not listen, bring another, bring the church, if you have to… And if, and only if. If all of this fails, then step away from the relationship. Treat that one like a gentile. A tax collector. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
It’s straight-talk. Jesus informs guys like Peter and John – those seeking status, that cultivating reconciliation, is far more important than having a big seat at the table. Being reconciled to neighbor, practicing forgiveness, makes our work together possible, it frees us from corrosive guilt and anger, and it announces to the world that we take relationship seriously.
Friends, this is hard work. It’s humbling and at times exhausting to stand before those who’ve cut us deep – to kindle a flame of reconnection. It means risks, sacrifice, trust, the potential that the one we’re prepared to restore isn’t interested in restoration. But think about those times you were the recipient of forgiveness. What was it like when someone announced, “You hurt me, but I forgive you.” Let’s move on. Let’s move forward.
Jesus also seems to indicate that forgiveness is a corporate responsibility and not just the individuals. Which means, when we become aware of estrangement in the community. When we recognize that families or friendships are tattered by injustices or inaction, we’re on the hook to do something. Listen, counsel, pray, bring parties together in conversation in Jesus’ name.
On April 9, 1965 Robert E. Lee signed a document of surrender at a ceremony held at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia. His home, Arlington, had been converted into a national cemetery, so Lee relocated his family to Lexington, Virginia. A farmer for just a few weeks, the old Soldier was called into duty by the board of Trustees of Washington College in Lexington. Washington was in financial shambles.
Enrollment had declined precipitously throughout the War. The physical plant of the campus had succumb to a half decade of deferred maintenance. Yet, the board at Washington was confident that Lee’s leadership would bolster the institution making in a jewel in the South.
Well, Lee looked at his tenure as President as opportunity to make Washington College a laboratory for forgiveness – a model of reconciliation – for the scarred country. Immediately Lee recruited students from the North to complement the “All Southern” Student Body on Campus.
Lee, well aware that many Washington students were former confederate soldiers, encouraged his young charges to reapply for US Citizenship and rejoin the union as partners instead of antagonists. Lee also infused the college’s curriculum with dialogue gatherings designed to get young adults interested in talking about the nation’s pain, and how it might best emerge from the soot of War.
As part of his own walk toward healing, Lee worked to forgive himself. He applied for citizenship in the United States. He planted trees, and selling most of his assets Lee underwrote scholarships so that the children of war widows, like the one in Kentucky, could come and study. Come and develop the tools needed to rebuild a nation.
If you desire to move forward, be willing to move on… from the disagreements, the decades long dispute, the awkward family gatherings, the curt phone calls, the stares, the gossip mill, the cutting emails, the Open Secret status updates on Facebook. The all-out wars. Forgiveness is among our greatest treasures. Plant it generously. Receive it, too… In Jesus’ name.
Feeding our wounds with forgiveness
Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken,struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. : Isaiah 53:14
George was a patient at a local hospital, and while he wasn’t dying, he was seriously ill. The social worker introduced himself to his patient and then asked if George wanted some company. George nodded so the social worker pulled a chair over to George’s bedside for a chat. It turns out that George had never before been hospitalized, so the whole experience was threatening to him.
He talked about his former fiancé. It had been a “horrible relationship” George declared. Nothing about it was good—“She never wanted children; she was selfish and controlling; she called off the wedding two months before the date.” George was embittered by her departure and his loneliness.
He said he hated everything about his former fiancé and everything she did to him. Here’s the sad thing – all of this had unfolded two and a half decades prior to George’s hospitalization. And the former fiancé? She’d moved cross country in 1990, married and had adult children. but George still couldn’t let it go. Couldn’t move on with life… until the social worker stepped-in and talked to him about conflict and its role in loneliness.
Karen and Frank were the parents of Cynthia, a young woman who died in a tragic car on the way home from College. The weather was terrible that day – tremendous Thunderstorms – and the driver of the car in which Cynthia was a passenger had lost control of the vehicle and slammed into a tractor trailer.
After investigating the crash site and interviewing dozens of witnesses the State DOT determined that no one was at fault for the crash. But Karen and Frank – in their grief and utter loneliness – targeted Cynthia’s friend – the driver – as the responsible party. The enemy… Through a succession of costly but unsuccessful lawsuits, stretching over 12 years, they forced Cynthia’s friend into bankruptcy. But the bankruptcy didn’t assuage Karen and Frank’s loneliness. The healing began when Cynthia’s friend, as battered as she was, accepted Karen and Frank’s plea for forgiveness for their ugly behavior.
And then there was Stacey. A divorced mother of three, she dreaded the day her last child moved on to College. For years she poured the best of herself into her children’s health, happiness, and futures. In the physical absence of the relationships that provided her with meaning in life, Stacey withdrew to Alcohol and Facebook. When Stacey’s children returned home for visits, they found their mother angry and vindictive. In a telltale moment of bitterness, Stacey lashed-out at her youngest daughter: Shame on you. Shame on you for leaving me here by myself. I did everything for you and you just walked away from me.
As Stacey’s depression and anger became even more entrenched, her children realized it was safest to create some space between them and mama. Amid the space, Stacey realized that she’d created the distance from her children in the first place.
Most of us don’t have to look very far to find someone we can’t stand; someone we revile and detest; or even someone we’ve just grown apart from in life. We don’t have to go to Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan, or any other place in the world to find those we want to disparage, condemn, and blame for every wrong in our lives. Our “enemies” are in our neighborhoods, they live on our streets, they’re in our hometowns, and they’re even members of our own families. Hatred, revenge, loathing, and the like cut across all boundaries, and are sometimes tragically rooted in our loneliness.
It is the oldest law in the world. An eye for an eye, a wound for a wound, a tooth for a tooth, and a life for a life. The law of “tit for tat.” It is simple and straightforward—what you do to me, I do to you. If a person has inflicted an injury on another, real or perceived, than an equivalent injury shall be inflicted upon them. When the law of “tit for tat” enters the narrative our relationships, we end up killing ourselves. How often is our loneliness the smoldering, nuclear fallout of our own unresolved conflicts? More often than you can imagine.
If you are serious about addressing the loneliness created by conflict, begin by looking in the mirror. Have my words, actions, or inaction contributed to the loneliness I am encountering today? Does my prideful quest to “be right at all times” overwhelm my need to be in relationship with other members of the human family? Are those on the other side of distance cavern trying to reach over to me in love and the hope of restoration?
Sometimes it is as simple as letting go, friends. Letting go of resentment is a big step in letting in connection. When we are willing to practice forgiveness, some of the most cutting forms of loneliness lose their power over us.
Forgiveness is an essential in life. The Bible is a veritable treasure trove of forgiveness stories and lessons. Peruse the Bible careful and apply some of these important stories to your life. Best wishes as you hear and apply what the Bible says about forgiveness.