“One who forgives an affront fosters friendship,
but one who dwells on disputes will alienate a friend.”
— Proverbs 17:9 (NRSV)
We are all affronted in life. That is, we bear many open insults and everyone will struggle with the injustices implicit within such offenses.
It’s the world’s way to get even; many also argue it was the Old Testament way—an eye for an eye, etc. The world, as well as our flesh, insists on the obvious justice; to ensure they (or we) give the perpetrator the justice he or she deserves. It runs by instinct.
But there is, altogether, a better justice; a superior justice; a moral justice beyond the law.
This Christlike justice is radical and it defeats the world’s sense; it defeats our sense, too, because without faith we cannot love the person, in a forgiving way, who insults us. Faith is a vital ingredient, because we forgive in the moment without any sign that our forgiveness will redeem justice. Such faith is a risk—we may get nothing in return.
But there is another truth about the insulter we all need to be aware of.
The Character of the Person Who Is Given to Affront
What is the person like who affronts others?
This is not about character assassination; it’s about empathy. The best forgiveness is borne of empathy. If we knew a little bit more about the person who has affronted us, including their situation, and what stresses or anxieties they may be enduring, empathy will become us.
The character of the person who is given to affront may be marred by a phenomenon known as insecure adult attachment. In other words, they may struggle more than we do regarding dealing with intimacy and abandonment. And situations test all of us in this way: where there are risks of rejection, the stakes are raised, and the fearful recoil in various manners of affront.
We shouldn’t underestimate the role of the other person’s thinking and feeling upon their behaviour. If we were inside their heads and hearts, and had the same experiences they’ve had, with the same challenges they are facing, we would probably react the same way. Again, empathic responses make sense.
Our quest is to personify forgiveness—to make it real and permanent within us.
Forgiveness has to be personally relevant; it is the gift of access to grace. But there are probably a million and more ways of accessing grace. We need to find our way, as we journey with God, in making the forgiving of affronts commonplace in our lives.
To do this requires the risk of upsetting loved ones, who will see us as doormats. The opposite is true. It takes a tremendous amount of courage to give someone a second chance when they really don’t deserve it. We forgive not out of submission, but out of the choice to rise above the affront. And although forgiveness is not necessarily trust, in relationships it is the benefit of a second chance for those who might reasonably benefit, so the relationship might benefit.
Finally, forgiveness is also about our composure. When we forgive properly, we are at peace.
But the point is, God’s desire is that we would invest in our relationship with Jesus such that the Holy Spirit would make access to grace relevant in a personal way.
Forgiveness often seems to make no sense, but failing to forgive is the short-sighted response. The person who forgives, who has access to grace, wins many relational battles for both parties. They do God’s bidding, courageously, in a selfish world.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.