We know it can be hard to offer forgiveness, but is it not also difficult to accept forgiveness?
In some ways, that is obvious, such as when I have done something I believe to be so terrible that I cannot forgive myself, let alone receive that from the wronged party.
But that is not what is in my mind. Something has happened in the last ten days. Let me tell the story.
We are a two-car family. Debbie drives the family car, a Citroen Picasso. I have a small, economical car to run around in on church business. It’s a Renault Clio. Girly car, you may say, but it’s economical. However, it is eleven years old, and while it is still functioning well the time will soon come when repairs and servicing will cost more than it is worth. Before long, I shall need to replace it.
I wasn’t thinking of doing that just yet, but ten days ago, we were walking home after dropping off the children at school when Debbie noticed another small car for sale. It was six years old, whereas I had thought I would aim for a three-year-old car. It was a Hyundai Getz, and my memory of Hyundai’s reputation wasn’t good. However, it was being offered for a decent price and as Debbie said, it would tide me over for a period while we got more savings together to buy a newer car.
After an exchange of text messages with the owner, I went out that night to his house and I test-drove it. I was impressed, and this was allied to some fairly positive reviews of the model I found on the Internet. Not being mechanically minded, I said to the owner that I wanted to have a full RAC inspection of the vehicle, but provided that was satisfactory, I would buy the car from him.
The RAC weren’t too flexible, sadly. The owner used the car for work, but the RAC wanted it made available for a whole day for their mechanic to turn up whenever he could fit it in. So I made alternative arrangements with the owner. He agreed to have it put through an MOT test three months early, and I spoke to an ex-mechanic friend from Kent who was willing to come up and give it a visual inspection.
The MOT happened on Tuesday. One tyre failed, but the owner had that replaced by the end of the day and we were all set for my friend to inspect the car on Wednesday evening.
Except that on Tuesday night he texted. He was getting rid of the car because his wife wanted a Ford Mondeo. That night they had found the perfect Mondeo, but the Mondeo owner wanted a small car, fell in love with the Getz and tough luck on me. He was full of apologies.
I was too stunned to reply that night, but I received a further guilt-laden email early the next morning. Clearly I had to reply. I told him that I forgave him. And since forgiveness means the absorbing of a debt, I truly did that. For although I had not had to pay for the RAC or the MOT, I had in the meantime had an HPI check done on the financial provenance of the car. That was £24.99. I chose not to ask him for that money, for otherwise I didn’t think it would be true forgiveness, and in fact I didn’t even mention that outlay to him.
Time to lick wounds, move on and perhaps postpone the purchase of a car until after we had moved to Surrey in three weeks’ time.
Or so I thought. Because yesterday morning I received another email from the now former owner of the Getz. He thanked me for my response, and it was clear from his explanation that he had caved in to pressure from his wife and the lady selling the Mondeo. Under that pressure, moral principles had crumbled.
Except that – in my opinion – he didn’t really accept the forgiveness. Because he added a PS where he told me that next time I was in a position like that, I should put down a deposit, take my mechanic friend along for the test drive and do the deal there and then. In other words, he tried to shift the blame onto me. He tried to suggest there had been something defective in my conduct. He no longer accepted full responsibility for his actions. He attempted to disperse some of the guilt.
Some people are too proud to accept forgiveness. That’s why it’s difficult to accept. To receive forgiveness, people have to acknowledge full responsibility for their actions. Rather than do that and receive a gift of grace, pride means people find other parties or factors to blame, even if those factors are part of themselves, such as their upbringing or something that has been done to them.
But healing only comes with a full acknowledgement of what we have done. Only then can we be forgiven.