When Forgiveness is, well... Difficult.
There is probably not one person reading this who has not been hurt by someone in some way. When things happen to us, there are so many different ways we could respond. We could look for the opportunity to get back at them for what they have done to us. We could get bitter, which hurts us more than it hurts the other person or persons who wounded us.
There are other responses that we can have but the one that God wants us to practice the most, the one that we are called upon to practice above anything else, is forgiveness. Let that sink in for a moment.
In all honesty, when we have been wronged, deciding to forgive is not always at the front of our list. Yet, that is what we are called to do if we are followers of Jesus.
We have seen forgiveness in action when people who have lost loved ones to a senseless act of violence chose to forgive the ones who harmed their families and friends. Or when someone in a church lies or gossips about another person and the individual being dragged through the mud is willing to forgive.
Forgiveness is challenging, isn’t it? It can be difficult. Our emotions tell us one thing, yet in our mind and heart we know what God wants us to do. And that is what causes the struggle sometimes. The sinful side of us wants to hold a grudge, or wait for the other person to ask for us to forgive them before we extend the same to them. As you may know, that does not always happen.
In fact, usually when we have been wronged, the individual who has done the damage thinks nothing about it. And whether they come to the point of asking for us to forgive them or not, we are called to take the high road that Jesus would take – we need to forgive.
For those who have experienced salvation, a personal relationship with Christ, the following words written by Paul in Ephesians 4:32 zero in on our responsibility as ones who have experienced God’s forgiveness in our lives.
Paul tells us in vs. 32 that we are to forgive others in same way that God forgave us through Christ. And how did God forgive? Completely. Romans 4:7-8 reminds us that when God forgives, He wipes the slate clean, meaning He is not keeping a record of the wrongs we have done or will do. He has forgiven us. He has forgiven a debt we could never repay to Him.
This does not mean that God does not know when we sin and need forgiveness. He is God, and knows everything. What it means is that He is not holding our sins over our head. And we have to be willing to forgive others just as God forgave us.
That can be difficult, right? Forgiveness, though, is crucial to our spiritual well-being. When I am willing to forgive, to let go of what has happened, and not have expectations of pay back or of someone even asking for me to forgive them, I can move forward in my life. That is true of all of us.
In Ephesians 4, where we read of Paul’s challenge to us to forgive, he also warned us two verses earlier, in Ephesians 4:30, what can happen when we don’t forgive. We can become bitter and angry, and pretty soon we want nothing more than to see the other person be hurt as we were.
The reality is, when bitterness enters our life, it is a poison that will ruin us. Choose instead to forgive, to ask God to help us to let go of the hurts and pains, and instead, let God love us and help us to become more like Christ, Who showed the ultimate forgiveness when He died on a cross and offered salvation to all mankind.
One final thought regarding forgiveness. I have read that forgiveness is not genuine unless we also forget everything that happened. I have thought about this. Obviously, when we forgive we are not to continue dwelling on what happened that caused the issues.
We are to forgive and move forward. But at times, something might trigger a memory of what happened to us or others we care about. Or we run into the person who hurt us (probably many reading this have experienced that), a former co-worker, church attendee, etc. When we do, sometimes that struggle from what happened before comes into our mind.
I think Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:21-35 are helpful for these situations. When Peter asked Jesus how many times he should forgive others, and he asked if seven times was enough, Jesus’ answer was probably not what he expected.
You see, in the days of Christ, some of the religious leaders taught that you were only obligated to forgive someone three times. So when Peter asked Jesus if forgiving others seven times was pretty good, the Lord responded with a principle that I believe applies to those times when things happen that jog our minds and bring back whatever may have happened in the past.
Jesus, in Matthew 18:22, told Peter, and depending upon which translation you have, we are to forgive either 77x or 490x. The point was that we should never keep a record of how many times we forgive someone.
At times when those memories begin to get us and we start thinking about what happened, remind ourselves that we have forgiven them already and then praise the Lord that He has forgiven us and can help us to continually forgive others.
When we remind ourselves that we have chosen to forgive, even when things confront us that cause inner struggles in our life, we can keep going forward, basking in the light of God’s love, mercy, and grace that He shows, not only to us, but to others as well.
Forgive. It will set us free.