What’s the big deal with forgiveness?
We teach our kids to be strong and not let anyone show them disrespect. We defend our rights and keep a keen eye out for any violation. We accept responsibility and believe that we as well as others should be held accountable. These are noble and legitimate ends.
Yet, in these noble causes, as well as hundreds of others, there is a temptation to think that forgiving others is a choice. In one sense it is a choice, it requires a conscious decision to forgive, but God has been very clear about the crucial importance of forgiving.
God does it
Psalm 86:5 - “You, Lord, are forgiving and good, abounding in love to all who call to you.”
God models the behavior that He wants from us because it’s His very nature to be that way. Where would we be without the abounding love of God? He is our role model.
He expects us to do it too
Ephesians 4:32 - “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Colossians 3:13 - “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
In today’s culture there seems to be a rush for people to identify as victims. Paul wrote the words above to a New Testament church that was under tremendous persecution, suffering offenses that were the purest definition of hate crimes. Yet his emphasis was on forgiveness rather than accountability or retribution.
Forgiving others is not a self-help suggestion from God – it’s a command.
He, amazingly, expects us to be like Him!
It’s a Prerequisite for God’s forgiveness - yikes!
Matthew 6:14-15 - “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
Luke 6:37 - “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”
He expects us to forgive a lot
Matthew 18:21-22 - "Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, 'Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?' Jesus answered, 'I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-times-seven.' "
This is what Identifies True Christians
Joh 13:35 - “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Unforgiveness hinders our own prayers
Mark 11:25 - “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”
A spirit of unforgiveness complicates and compromises our daily walk with God. Forgiving others releases us from anger and allows us to receive the healing we need.
Forgiveness heals the forgiver
Even God forgives for His own sake.
Isaiah 43:25 - “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more ..."
If it's true for God how much more so for us! Forgiving others is about finding our own healing.
God is saying that it is in our own best interest to forgive! He is not talking about what is in the best interest of the person who is forgiven. We are the ones who God is trying to protect. We are the ones who receive the most benefit from forgiveness, not the other person.
Forgiveness is a crucial part of loving
Proverbs 10:12 - “Hatred stirs old quarrels, but love overlooks insults.”
Proverbs 17:9 - “Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends.”
God's love for us is beyond our comprehension and His commands for us are intended to make our lives as rich and rewarding as possible. Forgiving others spares us from the consequences of living out of an unforgiving heart. It is the ultimate relationship healer.
Forgiving is Hard
Even when we know what God expects and understand the benefits, most of us still struggle mightily with forgiving. Whether we need to forgive someone else or forgive ourselves, it can often be the hardest thing we face in life.
In his excellent blog post: 5 Reasons People Don’t Forgive, BJ Foster describes five reasons why it’s so hard.
1. I don’t know how
Forgiveness is not saying that what happened is justified and forgotten. It doesn’t mean that trust is restored and there is full reconciliation. Forgiveness is simply giving up your right to condemn and handing that over to God to judge and administer justice. Forgiveness is letting go of ill will and making peace.
2. I’m too bitter
Bitterness is hard to let go of because it is a security blanket that provides false comfort and a distraction from our hurt. Somehow, we convince ourselves that our bitterness keeps the offender on the hook, but in reality, it is only hurting us. The truth is that unless we confront and expose our wounds, we will never experience healing. We have to let go of our bitterness – it does not produce justice.
3. They don’t deserve forgiveness
The problem is that no one deserves forgiveness. Forgiveness means they are released from the vengeance we want to administer. That’s exactly the point.
4. I’m right and they’re wrong
It feels good to place someone who hurts you in the category of an evil person. It makes life much simpler, but it’s not that simple. Forgiveness doesn’t excuse their behavior, but it causes us to consider what led them to be that way. Forgiveness also challenges us to think about the pain we have inflicted on others and our own need to receive forgiveness.
5. I’m not strong enough
It’s true that forgiveness requires resilient bravery, love, faith, empathy, openness, and vulnerability. Wounds can leave us too raw and weakened to forgive. The steps toward forgiving are what start the process of living life from a position of strength rather than weakness. When we have learned the power to forgive we have gained the ultimate power.