By Tammy Darling
Until recently, I never knew I could go to church and leave feeling so angry, confused, and just plain horrible. And it had nothing to do with conviction of sin. Instead it involved control and manipulation—something that shouldn’t be present in a place of worship.
I would have expected such behavior from a worldly person. Coming face to face with it in the church has rocked me beyond belief. And I’m having a hard time forgiving.
The reality of life in a fallen world renders forgiveness anything but theoretical. Without forgiveness marriages disintegrate, churches split, and relationships unravel.
Forgiving those who hurt us doesn’t come naturally. It’s easier to get angry and remain that way. It requires much more effort to forgive.
Thoughtlessly muttering “I forgive you” is ineffective. Forgiveness is not that simple.
Nor is forgiveness an intellectual exercise. That would be like applying a bandage to a deep wound. It may cover up the ugliness, but it doesn’t provide healing. True forgiveness—forgiveness that heals—requires that we face situations (and often people) we’d rather ignore.
The concept of forgiveness lies at the heart of Christianity. Where would we be if Christ had not forgiven us? We cannot ignore forgiveness. We are commanded to do it.
To forgive means “to give up all claims to punish or exact a penalty for an offense.” No strings. No conditions.
Forgiveness is an issue of the heart. Jesus concluded the parable of the unmerciful servant by saying, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart” (Matthew 18:35). Forgiveness is a heart-felt gift we give to others in the name of Jesus.
To the extent we understand and receive God’s forgiveness, we will be able to forgive others. Because Christ has forgiven us, we need to be forgiving of those who have sinned against us.
We often think by withholding forgiveness we hurt the other person. That’s what the enemy wants us to believe. When we withhold forgiveness we only hurt ourselves.
An unforgiving attitude can lead to broken relationships, emotional bondage, physical ailments, and indifference toward the Lord.
Some people say they will forgive only when they receive a proper apology. However, neither salvation nor forgiveness can be earned; both must be freely given.
I know from past experience that if I refuse to forgive someone, I am giving that person a controlling influence in my life. And I will never be free of it until I deal with it through forgiveness.
Our approach to forgiving others may be affected by the nature and extent of the offense, our relationship with the person who injured us, our own sense of self worth, and whether or not the person we need to forgive has sought forgiveness. Forgiving a slanderous comment by a coworker will be easier to forgive than childhood sexual abuse by a relative. Many factors come into play.
Sometimes our pride gets in the way. (“How dare he speak to me that way!”) Other times we withhold forgiveness because of the person’s refusal to change. (“When she stops belittling me, I’ll forgive her.”) At times we are so badly hurt or unjustly treated that we legitimize our unforgiving attitude. (“He had no right to do that to me.”)
Sometimes we must forgive someone who has not hurt us directly but has instead hurt someone we love dearly. I experienced this recently when someone repeatedly hurt a close family member. Forgiving the first time was relatively easy. However, as the offenses continued to multiply, I found it increasingly difficult to forgive. As I found myself getting angry and bitter, I knew I had to forgive as many times as it took.
Apparently Peter was having the same problem when he asked Jesus, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” (Matthew 18:21). Jesus, knowing we all would face such situations, replied, “I tell you, not seven times, but 77 times” (v. 22).
Of course Jesus wasn’t referring to a literal limit, but to the fact that forgiveness is ongoing; we do it as often as it takes. God gives us the ability to forgive, but we have to be willing.
We cannot control how people treat us, but we are responsible for how we respond to them. The injustices and offenses we experience can draw us closer to the Lord or further away from him. It all depends on whether or not we are willing to forgive.
While the pain of an injustice or an offense is no small matter, we must realize that our refusal to forgive denies God the opportunity to redeem the hurt. We’d prefer he change the offender and make him sorry for what he has done, but God wants to transform us. Are we willing to let him?
Sometimes it’s hard to understand God’s ways. If we did, we wouldn’t depend on him. He reminds us that his ways and thoughts are higher than ours (see Isaiah 55:9).
When we choose to forgive we are acknowledging the frailty of human nature. We allow room for error and weakness. Inadequacies don’t have to ruin relationships; instead they give love and forgiveness an opportunity to shine in the darkness of human nature.
God’s Word can help us release hurt and anger into his hands. As we choose to put on love and offer forgiveness, we will experience the peace of Christ.
Jesus modeled forgiveness for us. He suffered a wide range of offenses—betrayal, abandonment, disloyalty, physical abuse, humiliation, and more. Through it all his attitude was one of submission to the Father.
No one can justify withholding forgiveness when God has forgiven us so generously. We may think the offender doesn’t deserve to be pardoned, but neither are we worthy of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.
If we are willing, we can forgive any offense. We can forgive as we rely on God’s grace. Without him forgiveness is never complete.
While I don’t understand why God is allowing this current situation in my life, “I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the lord in the land of the living” (Psalm 27:13).
In his perfect timing, God will hold the offender accountable. He is a just God. And while I can’t always depend on the character of others, I can depend on God’s character.
I’m still struggling with forgiveness, but I’ve decided to take it all to the Lord. “Surely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me” (Psalm 54:4).
Looking to the Psalms
Since that Sunday, I have been strangely drawn to the Psalms. Perhaps it’s because David had to deal with—and forgive—so many people in his lifetime.
Many of David’s psalms begin with an expression of pain or anguish but end with praise to God. I have decided to follow David’s example.
Because of David, I know it’s okay to tell God exactly how I feel. Being honest with God helps me to be honest with myself, enabling me to work through my emotions.
When I’m done venting I make sure I praise God, often using some of the same psalms David penned. One of my favorite passages during this time has been Psalm 13:5, 6: “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.”
I’ve seen the studies. People who forgive live longer and feel better. That’s a great tidbit of information, but I want to forgive others because I know it glorifies God and reveals his character to others.
Forgiveness is costly, but worthwhile. C. S. Lewis observed, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely word, until they have something to forgive.” Depending on your circumstances, it may be one of the hardest things you’ll ever do.
No matter how deep the wound, God has given us the power to forgive—if we are willing. Let’s forgive others simply because God has forgiven us. I am willing; are you?
Tammy Darling is a freelance writer in Three Springs, Pennsylvania.
Getting Rid of the Gorilla
by Brian Jones
An unforgiving heart ruins relationships, affecting everyone and everything. And living with an unforgiving heart is like living with a gorilla.
Maybe you’ve tried to forgive and failed. Maybe you aren’t even sure you want to forgive.
Read about Brian’s struggles to forgive, and find hope and strength to get rid of the gorilla in your own life.
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