To err is human, and to forgive is divine," is no biblical quote: Alexander Pope was credited as first saying it, but teachings from the Bible do support this thesis.
God created us as beings who can either choose to obey or disobey him. Except for Jesus Christ, who was truly human and divine, no one has or will be able to follow God perfectly. We all make mistakes. Even as God made provision for when we err from his ways (sacrificial system in the Old Testament and Christ's death on the cross in the New Testament), so are we to make allowances when people around us engage in wrongful acts.
What does "to err is human" have to do with forgiving others? In counseling people for whom forgiving themselves and others is difficult to impossible, it has been my observation that such people expect a degree of perfection in themselves and others, which is found only in God. Perfectionism not only puts unrealistic, burdensome demands upon us but also makes forgiving self and others impossible.
We are to strive to be perfect, but at the same time accept that we will never become that way this side of heaven. Failure to understand and to relate to others in the light of saying "to err is human," leads us to be highly critical, demanding, judgmental, and condemning, attitudes not found in the list of the "fruits of the Spirit" (Galatians 5:22).
We might say the words, "I forgive you," but our heart often is not in it. Only with God's help can we forgive from the heart. Remember: Only God can forgive and forget, but the way we forget is not to bring up the matter again with the person we have forgiven.
Forgiveness from the heart requires a magnanimous spirit, like the Apostle Paul showed toward a troublemaker in the church at Corinth who tried to discredit him among the other church members. Paul urged the other church leaders to love and to comfort the guilty party.
By so doing, Paul was not advocating sweeping the problem under the rug, but advocated dealing forthrightly with the error and then moving on. He was able to deal with the problem because he understood that "To err is human" and to forgive is God's way.
Dr. Gene Norris is a local Presbyterian pastor.
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