Forgiveness is not the name of an emotion; it does not flow from an emotion; it is not associated with any particular emotion or feeling. It is the name of an activity; it flows from the will; and it is normally associated with emotional resistance.

When someone sins against us, we are morally instructed in Christ to forgive that person. This instruction is not directed towards our emotions. How could it be? Emotions are not voluntary, and moral instruction only belongs within a context of compliance or rejection. There can be no meaningful instruction to ‘Be less chagrined,’ any more than there can be a meaningful instruction to ‘Feel less pain in your toe.’ Those words can certainly be offered – any words can be offered – but they are meaningless as instruction, and Christ’s words are never meaningless.

So what are we being instructed to do, when we are instructed to forgive? We are being instructed to act towards the other as if the harm had never occurred. For most of us on the Christian walk, this is the most difficult instruction we will ever receive; and that, of course, is why it lies at the very foundation of Christ’s curriculum. It is so fundamental, in fact, that it underpins everything else, almost the way arithmetic underpins the rest of mathematics. But there is this difference. Arithmetic is simpler than the things built upon it, whereas forgiveness is more difficult than the rest.

And this is typical of the Christian way. It does not begin with the simple; it begins with the impossible, and goes from there.

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