In 1996, Evertt L. Worthington's mother was brutally raped and murdered in her home. That horrific event tested his beliefs, teachings, writings and research about forgiveness that began in the early 90's. As a Christian, his mother's words and his faith had set a foundation in his mind and heart about the gift of forgiveness. True to his beliefs and with the help of God, he was able to move out of his first impulse of violent rage fantasies toward forgiving his mother's attackers.
Worthington has developed a challenging model of forgiveness called REACH. The following is a condensed explanation of the model, which in no way denies facing and working through emotions, such as anger and grief, and the far reaching and sometimes invisible impact of the offense. When we have successfully diminished our pain and loss, we are freer to positively focus on the offender and forgiveness. Forgiveness is a process, and Scripture does not tell us how long it should take between recognizing an offense and offering forgiveness. From my view, as long as we are genuinely on a path toward forgiving a penitent offender, God is pleased.
R - Recall the hurt without getting stuck in blame or self-pity.
E - Empathize with the offender by getting into their world of thoughts, motives, feelings, vulnerabilities, etc.
A - Altruistically, give the gift of forgiveness, as well as a tangible gift that represents forgiveness. Exercise compassion.
C - Commit publicly to forgive. Since forgiveness can be fragile, write a letter of forgiveness and tell others.
H - Hold on to forgiveness. Recall or imagine positive experiences and characteristics of the offender. The character of any offender is more than just can be concluded by one act.
C.S. Lewis once wrote, “Everyone thinks forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have someone to forgive.” There is almost always a gap between what we imagine our thoughts, feelings and actions would be in a given situation and the reality of being in it. We can learn to close that gap and model for the world the art and process of Christian forgiveness as God intended. When we do it according to the truth of Scripture, it is good for the offended, the offender and all who witness the story, whether God or the spirits in heaven or humans on earth.
Make no mistake, as God will not forgive everyone (there is a hell--separation from God), so we are not required to forgive all. Excluded from His and our forgiveness are those who refuse to confess and repent, according to Luke 17:3,4. Without confession and repentant there is no forgiveness of sin or salvation. Also, there are other alternatives for managing and working out potentially destructive feelings than just through forgiving.
(For more on the subject of Biblical forgiveness, righteous withholding of forgiveness and dealing with troubled emotions, see the detailed article "Theologies That Wound: A Study of Biblical Forgiveness" in our Shop on our website.