Why Should I Forgive?

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She asks me about forgiveness.

I look up into her tear-filled eyes and know she isn’t looking for canned advice. She wants real help, honesty, depth.

I shift uncomfortably in my chair. This is a hard topic to talk about without sounding preachy. I want to be sensitive and I’m not sure what to say.

Glancing over at me, she asks, “So what was it like for you to forgive? Why did you do it? Was it hard? And was it worth it?”

My mind scans all of the offenses I’ve forgiven. They have ranged from small–not being invited to a friend’s party. To medium- dealing with an insensitive and critical relative during a painful struggle. To huge – burying my infant son due to a doctor’s careless mistake. Or losing the marriage that I thought would last a lifetime.

I know she is referring to a specific offense that I’ve had to forgive, that I’m still in the process of forgiving, but there is a commonality to all the offenses against me. They have all hurt. Some superficially, some deeply, some permanently.

I take the questions one by one, trying to be as transparent as I can.

Why did I forgive?

I begin slowly, choosing my words carefully.

“To be honest I didn’t want to forgive. I never do. But the Bible tells us to forgive if we want to be forgiven. And forgiving those who wrong us brings glory to God. It shows the world Jesus.

But forgiving has also helped me. When I carry around anger and bitterness over what someone has done, it eats at me, and almost controls my life. It’s almost like the bitterness follows me everywhere.

“I hate to admit it, but I take a twisted pleasure in replaying the offense, getting mad, being the victim. I feel entitled to those feelings- small consolations in the face of the injustices I’ve endured. But I know this pleasure is really poison. Poison that I am pouring into a gaping, already painful wound. That poison makes the wound fester, so I’m worse off than I was at the start. I’m in more pain, while the person who hurt me doesn’t even know, or care.

“I have found forgiveness is like a balm. It lets me heal. Keeps the wound clean. Enables me to move on.”

She looks at me. “I guess that makes sense. But it seems impossible when I look at my situation. Forgiving is too hard.”

I understand. What I’m saying is radical. It seems crazy for the victim to do this. But I forge ahead.

“I agree, it’s impossibly hard. The first step of forgiveness feels like death. I need Christ to help me. Or else I can’t do it.

“Personally, I want to hold onto my pain and rehearse everything that has been done to me, in case I forget it. I enjoy self-pity. I feel it’s my right- a small consolation in light of what’s been done. It’s easy to justify my coldness, my rage, my detachment to the person who has hurt me. They deserve to be punished- it’s their fault, not mine.

What’s even harder is that the other person can’t know how much they have hurt me. They may understand part of it, but they don’t live inside my head to know the depth of my pain.”

She’s pondering what I’m saying, taking it all in.

After a minute, she says, “It’s not so much that I enjoy being mad. It’s more that forgiving him feels like I’m saying that he didn’t hurt me or that I’m over it. Or even that I’m thinking what he did wasn’t that bad. How can I forgive something that has cost me so much? Forgiving him seems unfair.

I glance over at her. I get that. It feels colossally unfair.

“I’ve felt that way too. But forgiving really isn’t saying that it’s okay. It could actually be saying the opposite. It could be implying that what he did was so bad that there’s nothing he could do to make up for it. And that is why he needs forgiveness. Because he could never make it right himself.

That’s the message of the gospel. God did not forgive our sins because they were trivial. Our sins were monumental. And we could never make up for them.

“In the Bible, God’s forgiveness involves the shedding of blood. Forgiveness requires death. Forgiveness is costly.

“A friend once said told me, ‘We are never as much like Christ as when we are willing to suffer for the sins of others.’

“And so for us to forgive is costly too. It involves another type of death. Dying to self. Dying to our rights. Dying to what we want.”

She looks down at the floor. “I guess forgiving isn’t saying what they did was trivial. But even when I start to think about forgiving, new things keep coming up.”

I know that feeling well. This time I look directly at her.

“For me, forgiveness is a process that begins with a decision. A deliberate choice to forgive. But it’s rarely a one-time event, never to be revisited. New offenses arise, memories resurface, unintended consequences develop. They all need to be dealt with. Every time I am reminded of the sin against me, I can choose to rehearse it- strengthening its power over me, or release it- weakening its power.

This has been the key to forgiveness for me. It’s a daily choice. It’s refusing to dwell on the sin but rather surrendering it to God. It’s praying for the person who hurt me, and praying for myself in the process. It’s asking God to take away my bitterness whenever I recall the offense. It requires work and vigilance. But it gets easier every time I do it.

I feel like I have talked too much. I need to be quiet. Listen. But then I remember her last question: Was it worth it? Am I glad I did it?

This question I can answer with certainty.

“Even though the process felt like death, in the end, it was more than worth it. God did immeasurably more than I could have asked or imagined. Forgiving unleashed God’s power in my life in an unparalleled, astonishing wayIt continues to be one of the most life-changing, life-giving things I have ever done.”

I don’t know where you are in your journey of forgiveness. Perhaps the wound for you is still fresh and you need time to process all that’s happened. But maybe you’ve been holding onto bitterness for a long time and God is asking you to let it go. If that’s you, I encourage you to pray. To trust God. To forgive your offender. You won’t regret it. And after you’ve forgiven, after you’ve rejected the poison of wanting revenge, you’ll be amazed at the life-giving joy and peace that God floods through your life as you walk with Him. 

 

 

 

Adapted from the Archives

  • May 11, 2017 - 2:59 pm

    Maggie Huffman - So encouraging!
    And when we do not have the strength ourselves it is so beautiful when we ask the Holy Spirit to strengthen us and give us wisdom and compassion – He totally comes through!
    But we have to have a desire to forgive – perhaps that’s the first prayer.
    I have had to forgive and be forgiven of SO much and I know that it all comes through the love and grace of my Savior.

    Thank you,Vaneetha, for the way you let God use you!ReplyCancel

    • May 11, 2017 - 8:44 pm

      Vaneetha - Love this, Maggie! I agree with everything you said, especially “And when we do not have the strength ourselves it is so beautiful when we ask the Holy Spirit to strengthen us and give us wisdom and compassion – He totally comes through!” Amen.ReplyCancel

  • May 11, 2017 - 6:25 pm

    Jude - I’ve been researching the topic of forgiveness for a few days now. It seems to be the ‘hot’ topic of the month. 1st I need to say this: I don’t like the assumption made that if one is not willing/able to ‘forgive’ means that they are angry or bitter. That’s 2+2=5. It’s also a judgement made against the person. This ‘forgive all, at all times, no matter what’ that seems to be the ‘hot’ Christian topic on line these days is bothering me. Something just not ‘right’ about it. I would never tell a woman that has been raped, victimized by years of trauma and/or incest, battering, or who’s child has been killed, etc.that she MUST forgive the perpetrator if the perpetrator has not repented…or… God will not forgive her.

    I read PS. 55 and I have to ask if God did not forgive King David. God never forgives anyone unless they repent or did something unknowingly as He did on the Cross. This ‘black & white teaching that one MUST forgive or God will not forgive you seems to be taken out of context. Obviously, God does not forgive everyone. If He did, there would be no hell. Does God require of His children that they do something He, Himself, does not do? I have not come to any conclusions. I am praying for Understanding from the Lord. I don’t like it when 1-2 Scriptures are taken out of context then presented as a ‘law’…that’s this is how it MUST be. I want the mind of Christ on this matter.

    For example…should a victim of the Holocaust be told that if they do not forgive Hitler, that God will not forgive them?

    Just some thoughts…(((HUGS)))ReplyCancel

    • May 11, 2017 - 8:42 pm

      Vaneetha - I’m sorry this post was upsetting to you- I know this is a hard topic. I think some of your disagreement may come from how you define forgiveness. I do not equate forgiveness with reconciliation. My working definition of forgiveness is “giving up my right to hurt you for hurting me.”

      I agree with Wikipedia’s definition which says: Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, lets go of negative emotions such as vengefulness, with an increased ability to wish the offender well. Forgiveness is different from condoning (failing to see the action as wrong and in need of forgiveness), excusing (not holding the offender as responsible for the action), forgetting (removing awareness of the offense from consciousness), pardoning (granted by a representative of society, such as a judge), and reconciliation (restoration of a relationship).

      Jesus has a lot to say about forgiveness, far more than just 1-2 verses, and it is all consistent. However, I did not mean to imply that we could not be saved if we were harboring unforgiveness.

      We cannot truly forgive in our own strength, but when we ask God to help us forgive, He enables us to do that. And I have found the freedom that comes with forgiving someone who has hurt me is life changing. It is ultimately a gift to myself. So I would not tell a victim of the Holocaust that they had to forgive Hitler, but I would tell them that if they did, they would probably experience God’s life-giving freedom in a startlingly new way.

      Praying for you, and for myself, that God would reveal truth to us all…ReplyCancel

  • May 12, 2017 - 4:32 pm

    Scott - Thank you for sharing Vaneetha and for your encouragement. It seems that I’ve been having to turn the other cheek more than I’d like(once is more than I’d like). Thanks for encouraging me to continue on and to pray for those and bless those who offend me. Suffering in this way is not easy either, even with minor offenses. You’re a warrior.ReplyCancel

    • May 13, 2017 - 3:31 pm

      Vaneetha - Its a challenge for me, for all of us, to forgive if we are totally honest! But I have found its such an amazing way to live out and walk in the freedom of the Gospel!ReplyCancel

  • May 12, 2017 - 7:33 pm

    Jude - Ty! Not upsetting, though. Just digging deeper into God’s Word to have the mind of Christ on this topic. The ‘popular’ teaching seems to be ‘forgive everyone at all times no matter what’. I compare that with how we are instructed to 1-approach someone in sin; 2- take witnesses; 3-if they remain in sin, take the matter before the Church and essentially have the unrepentant leave the Church and then treat him/her as a heathen. I also look at how Paul turned folks over to satan on two occasions. Then there is a differentiation as to how we are to treat a believer and an unbeliever. Also, Luke 17:3-4 clearly states to rebuke..then ‘IF’ they repent, we are to forgive them. Folks seem to bypass that little word: ‘if’ on many occasions. I don’t think there’s a cookie-cutter answer. The ‘forgive everyone at all times no matter what’ seems a bit over-simplified. It may make a good bumper sticker, but again, God certainly does not and we are to have the mind of Christ. Being willing to forgive everyone as God is, IS having the mind of Christ. But actually doing that at all times under all circumstances does not seem consistent with the nature of God. In my researching this, I found this article…food for thought. (((HUGS))) https://questions.org/attq/should-i-offer-forgiveness-without-repentance/ReplyCancel

  • May 13, 2017 - 5:05 pm

    Carolyne - Thank you for such challenging and powerfully positive thoughts!
    I am reminded of a life changing book I read years ago: “A Chance To Die” written by Amy Carmichael.
    The cost of living out True Faith is never easy.ReplyCancel

    • May 13, 2017 - 8:44 pm

      Vaneetha - That is an awesome book! And it has such a challenging and biblical perspective about true faith…ReplyCancel

  • May 14, 2017 - 8:47 am

    Jackie Harden - Thank you so much for this clear understanding of this topic. Forgiveness is a process and it starts with being willing. Your honest portrayal of all the emotions that can go along with various degrees of offences is so helpful. Bless you Vaneetha!ReplyCancel

    • May 14, 2017 - 10:38 pm

      Vaneetha - So glad it was helpful, Jackie. Thank you for writing!ReplyCancel

  • June 9, 2017 - 11:11 pm

    Andrea - Hi Vaneetha. I’m struggling so very much with what forgiveness looks like in the case of my ex-husband. Several years ago he had an affair and divorced me to be with his co-worker. Even though it’s been about 7 years the pain is still so great. I understand that forgiveness does not mean I have to be friends with him. Does forgiveness mean that I have to be in favor of his new marriage with her?ReplyCancel

    • June 11, 2017 - 6:06 pm

      Vaneetha - I’m so sorry, Andrea. That is so hard. I don’t think you need to be in favor of their relationship at all. Forgiveness means, I think, that you don’t hold bitterness and resentment towards him, replaying his offenses against you. It takes time, though, and God’s grace and help. I’m praying for you as I write this…ReplyCancel

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