Forgiving. It’s never easy. Childhood memories of gulping down bitter cough syrup come to mind. I hate the stress in my soul when I’m faced with an offense. We’ve all faced the discomfort. Having lived on both sides of the forgiveness exchange, I cherish those who know how to forgive well and receive forgiveness.
The pathway of forgiving seems to have been lost in our speak-your-mind wilderness of social media. Clear scriptural directives to keep our emotions in a place of hope and trust are often buried under the debris of suspicion and self-preservation. “Tell people how you really feel,” or “you gotta look out for yourself,” are proverbs of talk show fueled psychology. This kind of advice does little to resolve disagreement. We all hope for sugarcoated remedies to deal with conflict, but the medicine that heals doesn’t taste great. But it works. Forgiving works. It’s natural to hold on to painful feelings when we’ve been hurt, but pain is only prolonged when forgiveness is not applied.
There are a few truths that I’ve learned on my journey of being forgiven and forgiving others.
- Forgiveness is a God idea. It takes a God-kind of ability to forgive and maintain a heart without offense. To forgive someone who has deeply hurt you takes more than mere determination. It takes strength. The sort of strength that God gives to those who will take the risk and leg go of their pain. As Alexander Pope said, “to err is human, to forgive, divine.”
- Forgiving is not forgetting. It is a repeated choice to not think evil of those who have hurt you. When the feelings of past wrongs arise, forgiveness responds by dismissing the memory and saying, “I have forgiven them.” Forgiveness must be done often and persistently to be effective.
- Forgiveness is a choice, a decision of our will. It is not feeling driven. We rarely “feel like forgiving.” If we wait until we feel like it, that day may never come. We must let go of our feelings and forgive.
- Forgiveness is resolving to live with the consequences of someone’s wrongdoing. It is hard to do, but this frees you from seeking retribution on the one who has hurt you. You have to take ownership of your situation, forgive, and believe God for His ability to carry on.
- Forgiveness does not hope for God’s punishment upon the offender. God doesn’t work to fulfill our vindication. When we seek Divine justification of our bitterness, we haven’t truly forgiven.
- Forgiveness will always cost the giver more than the receiver. The cost to the forgiver is great, but this is where the beauty of God’s grace enters. When we forgive, God gives us the ability forgive again and again.
- We don’t forgive those who’ve hurt us because they deserve it. When someone needs to be forgiven, they often don’t recognize their need for it. We can become unloving if we wait around for people to come to the realization that they were wrong and need to be forgiven. However, when we forgive there is a greater chance our offenders will sense the love God has for them.
- The forgiver always receives more joy than the receiver. It’s true. When you forgive from your heart it liberates you to love those who have hurt you.
Forgiveness is the foundation of every healthy relationship. But why are healthy relationships important? Aside from the obvious reasons, relationships are the means through which God speaks to us. The way we relate to God is through the godly relationships.
On the flip side, the reason many turn from God is because they don’t experience His character from those who claim to follow Him. No one rejects a church community because they read an offensive passage in the Bible. No, people leave the church because the Christians often distort the image of a loving God to be one like their own judgment and harshness. Yes, we get revelation about God through the scriptures, but day after day we experience those revelations by engaging with the people who claim to know Him.
When godly people become bitter, unforgiving, or even behave harshly toward each other we all know it isn’t right. God speaks to people through people. This places on us a demand to represent Him well. Consider this, the early church was built on the relationships with apostles and prophets. The concepts of community and relationship are highlighted as the litmus tests of authentic salvation and discipleship (John 13:35, 1 John 3:14, 17).
When Jesus brought the truth of salvation to the world, he didn’t deliver it to us a book. He inscribed it in hearts of those He loved. The disciples were not merely pious students. They became the message He wanted to communicate. Jesus embodied the full message that God desired to communicate to us. (John 1:14) In like fashion, Christ’s disciples became the message He desired to send into the world.
What is the message God wants to relay through us? He is a forgiving God. He paid a costly price to forgive us. He forgave us when we didn’t deserve it. He didn’t wait until we were repentant to forgive us. If we believe in this forgiveness, then we have no room to respond in bitterness toward those offend us. When we freely give what we have received, like forgiveness, it opens the door transformation within our own heart and mind. (Mark 10:8, Matthew 6:15)