Thornleigh Seventh-day Adventist Church (Sydney, Australia)

Home > Online Magazine > Online Magazine: Edition 13 - October/November 2006 > Pastor's Piece - What does it mean to Forgive?

Pastor's Piece - What does it mean to Forgive?

by Dr Barry Wright

The Oxford Dictionary tells us that 'to forgive' means to overlook, to pardon, to provide grace and mercy, and to show compassion regardless of a person's mistakes.

The story is told that when a group of Moravian Missionaries first went to the Eskimos, they could not find a word in their language for forgiveness, so they had to compound one to convey the thought. The result was a formidable assembly of letters which when put together spelt out the following word: Issumagijoujungnainermik. Translated, it meant 'Not-being-able-to-think-about-it-anymore' (Tan, 1991: 456).

Many people find it very difficult to forgive. Whether it is family prejudice or their own personal grievance, they find it difficult to give it up. If there is anything that will keep us earthbound, it will be an unforgiving spirit that still seeks retribution and retaliation for perceived wrongs.

Author Dorothy Minchin-Comm tells us that 'forgiving releases the wounded spirit, opening channels of peace up to God and out to our world. The Master of Forgiveness designs that this gift should flow from Himself, through us, and on to those living in bondage to their anger' Minchin-Comm, 1998: 182).

No wonder Jesus set forgiveness right in the middle of the model prayer He taught His disciples where He says in Matt 6: 14 'If you forgive others the wrongs they have done, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you,'

In other words, God's forgiveness of us demands that we forgive others.

When we learn to forgive our fellow man Psalm 103: 12 says that '…as far as the east is from the west, so far has He [God] removed our transgressions from us.'

'Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow' Isaiah 1: 18 KJV

God alone has the ability to both forgive and forget.

While many of us can forgive, it is not often that the offence can be completely eradicated from the memory. With God it is so different. God's forgiveness is so complete that sin can actually be erased from the record and put out of mind.

When Jesus was on the cross we see the supreme act of forgiveness when He said the words recorded in Luke 23: 34, 'Father forgive them; for they know not what they do'.

While Jesus was specifically referring to both the Romans and the Jews who had been instrumental in condemning and crucifying Him, in a broader sense it was also to include all sinners until the end of time. In one sense, we are all guilty of the blood of Jesus (Nichol, Vol 5, 1956: 876).

Failure to forgive can exact a severe penalty as we read in Luke 6: 37 and Mark 11: 26 that 'If you do not forgive [one another], neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.'

In one of the parables Jesus told in Matt 18: 21-35 we read of the man who had been forgiven the great debt he had owed while he refused to forgive another who owed him a paltry sum. Because of his unforgiving spirit, his own debt was returned to him. This resulted in the selling of not only himself, but also his wife, children and all his assets in order for payment to be made. This is God's Law: Forgive and be forgiven.

One of the greatest examples of human forgiveness can be seen in the life of Corrie Ten Boom. Born in Holland in 1892 and the youngest child in a loving Christian home, Corrie learnt the unselfish values of true Christian friendship. After Germany invaded Holland in World War II, anyone found helping Jews was sent with them to the prison camps. The Ten Boom family could not turn their backs on their friends and neighbours and, as such, became involved in an active and efficient underground movement. Hundreds of Jews were able to escape through the network of hideouts built to house and care for these people. Eventually the family was turned in by a fellow Dutchman on Feb 28, 1944 and, as a result, were incarcerated in a variety of prison camps. Corrie and her sister Bessie were eventually sent to Ravensbruck, the infamous death camp for women where over 96,000 of them were to die. It was in this filthy, rat-infested place that Bessie, who was mistreated at the hands of brutal guards, was to die.

After the war, Corrie spoke in many places of the fact that God had given her hope during this terrible time. She also told how He can help us to forgive our enemies and even learn to love them. At one of her meetings a man, who had become a Christian after the War, walked up to her and said he knew that God had forgiven him for his past mistakes, but he wanted Corrie to forgive him as well. As Corrie held out her hand she recognised him as one of the cruellest guards at Ravensbruck. Remembering the misery he had caused, Corrie wrestled with her answer asking God to help her to forgive this man. As she took his hand in hers she felt the bitter memories melt and with tears in her eyes she told him that she forgave him with all her heart (Brown, 2000: 11,12).

The words of Dag Hammarskjold ring true when he said that 'Forgiveness is the answer to the child's dream of a miracle by which what is broken is made whole again, what is soiled is again made clean (Water, 2000: 372).

If we forgive, God forgives, and how wonderful it is because forgiveness is one of the keys to ultimate happiness.



Brown, J. V.  (2000) Courageous Christians. Chicago, US: Moody Press.

Minchin, Comm, D. (1998) Glimpses of God. Daily Meditations for Adults. Warburton: Signs Publishing Company.

Nichol, F. D. (1956) The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary Vol 5. Washington DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association.

Tan, P. L. (1991) Encyclopedia of 7,700 Illustrations. Hong Kong: Nordica  International Ltd.

Water, M.  (2000) The New Encyclopedia of Christian Quotations. Hampshire, UK: John Hunt Publishing Ltd.

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