Most people in the church know that when they have been wronged, the right thing to do is forgive that person. But we could benefit from intentional reflection on this act that is the basis for God's relationship with each of us. What does it mean to forgive? To forgive is to give up the desire to punish. The root word "give" points towards the charitable and loving nature of this act. To forgive means to forgo the desire that someone "get theirs" and instead to let love have dominion.
What greater truth do we learn about forgiveness when we think of it as a love-based act? The story of the Prodigal Son is the quintessential story of forgiveness. When the son returns and, at his father's feet, begs for forgiveness, the father notably moves straight past "I forgive you" and immediately calls for his son to be taken care of with a robe and shoes for his feet. He is overjoyed that the relationship with his son has been restored. The natural next step for the father is to celebrate by killing his most valuable fattened calf! He does not even pause to go through the motions we know so well of bestowing our forgiveness upon whomever has wronged us. This is what forgiveness looks like: the father has given up the desire to punish, and his love towards the son is so powerful that it overflows into a party with music and dancing!
So forgiveness is an act of love. George McDonald describes forgiveness as "love towards the unlovable." My mind immediately thinks of the hymn we know very well. "Amazing grace! How sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me!" We, like the Prodigal Son, are wretches who have fallen into transgression against God. And yet, he forgoes his desire to punish and instead welcomes us home, places a robe and shoes on us, and calls for a celebration.
In this Lenten season, meditate on Christ giving up the desire to punish for our transgressions. Allow his loving act of forgiveness to reign in your hearts. May your days be marked with true forgiveness: love that overflows even to joyous celebration.