When It's Hard to Forgive

When It's Hard to Forgive

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I can do everything through Him who gives me strength [even forgive] (Philippians 4:13).

The kingdom of God is not about "heaven" and "someday." God, through Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit, has made it possible for His kingdom to be here on earth "as it is in heaven." When we obey God's Word and live out what He has made possible through the Blood and the Spirit, the Kingdom comes into being right then and there. We are at that moment living in His love and He is able to meet us and make His home in us. In Matthew 7:24-27 Jesus says that if you hear His Word and put it into practice, you are like a wise man who builds his house on a rock. If you hear His truth and choose not to live it out, you are going to find yourself wiped out again and again by the storms of life.

Forgiveness might be one of the hardest Kingdom realities. To truly live out Jesus? example and His teachings on forgiveness may be simple to understand with our heads, but difficult to feel in our hearts and to put skin on when we are the one being wounded.

It is especially hard when the wounds are deep and the sin committed against us is a life changer.

It is especially difficult when the wounder does not see the wrong that has been done and thinks you should be able to act as if nothing ever happened.

It is especially frustrating when the offender does not ask for forgiveness. For some the offender has passed away without asking for forgiveness. Some see their wounders every day.

We want so badly for justice. We want so much for acknowledgement of our pain, for admission of guilt, and for things to be made right. It is normal and human to want these things. But if we want to be part of His kingdom here on earth, we can't stay there. If we choose to cling to the pain and the need for justice and demand that the price be paid, we are not going to experience God's grace in our lives. He longs to meet us there and be everything that He has promised. We must surrender our need for something from that person and turn to God with that need.

You see, forgiveness is not about the other person. Forgiveness is about you and God. It is wonderful when the person is truly sorry, asks for forgiveness, and your relationship is restored and even stronger for the experience. But when this isn't the case, God's truth doesn't change. Through forgiveness, He can provide peace and healing in your life even if the other person isn't sorry or restoration is not possible. I have heard that when we choose not to forgive someone, it is as if we have handcuffed that person to us and we are dragging him or her around with us everywhere we go. Choosing to forgive is choosing to undo the handcuff on your wrist and not carry that person around with you anymore. This choice does not require anything from the other person. It is something you alone can do with the help of God.

Let's look at some Kingdom reality in Matthew 26:28. "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." Jesus has already poured out His blood for the wrong that was done to you. It has been accomplished. It is finished. When the person who wounded you is oblivious or knows but is not sorrowful or repentant, forgiveness is acknowledging your pain, taking that pain to Jesus, acknowledging that His blood has been spilled and the price has been paid, and accepting Jesus' blood as enough. It won't magically make the pain go away. It doesn't make the other person suddenly realize the wrong"but you choose to participate in the Cross by standing on the truth of what Jesus has done. You choose in the midst of your hurt and woundedness to live out the truth of who He is and what He has accomplished.

In The Art of Forgiving, Lewis Smedes refers to three stages of forgiveness:

1. We rediscover the humanity of the person who hurt us.
2. We surrender our right to get even.
3. We revise our feelings toward the person we forgive.

Hear this. The person who did wrong to you is not your enemy. We all have a common enemy and he only knows how to steal, kill, and destroy. If you give in to the mentality that your wounder is the enemy, then you are now both victims to the same liar and you will only find pain, death, and destruction as you wallow in the hurt. By rediscovering the humanity of your wounder, you are identifying with him or her in the fight against the true enemy and you are putting your pain in the hands of the lover of your soul. John 10:10 says, "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." Choose Life!

There is so much at stake! Here is the difficult part of the teaching, "Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins" (Matthew 6:12-15).

One time Peter asked Jesus, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times" (Matthew 18:21-22). Then Jesus goes on to tell the parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18:23-35. Take a moment to read this teaching of Jesus. Now if you are going to obey and be His kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven, what would it look like? Do you trust Him?

If you are struggling with an issue of forgiveness, don't stay stuck. Confess your need to God and ask Jesus to help you as you journey this painful path. I would encourage you to read His Word. Study Joseph as an example of forgiveness being lived out (Genesis 50).

You will find that He knows your pain, He hears your cry, and He is on the move to act on your behalf. He is longing to be your Comforter. He is the Healer of your broken heart. Read a book on forgiveness. Study it. Don't avoid it and allow the enemy to keep you wallowing in the hurt. He wants you to feel isolated and destroyed by whatever was done to you. Remember, the enemy can only steal, kill, and destroy. But Jesus has come that you might have life! Real and full life where you are no longer bound to your offender.

You may find along the journey that you need to forgive yourself. You may find yourself grieving the pain of the reality that a relationship is forever changed and restoration is not possible for whatever reason. Take that pain to God - don't let it keep you from the work of forgiving. The cost of not forgiving is too high.

When we hold on to unforgiveness, we hold on to pain and anger that becomes bitterness. We then begin to feel isolated and alone in our pain and, unaddressed, these will lead to depression and anxiety every time.

As we continue to choose to forgive, we participate in the Kingdom and bring what will one day be in its fullness into reality in the here and now. Imagine the smile that must put on God's face! To see us living in the reality of what He has made possible!

Janelle Beiler is children's pastor at Cross Pointe Church of the Nazarene in Salisbury, Maryland, and is an M.S./Ph.D. student in pastoral counseling and spiritual care at Loyola University in Maryland.

Holiness Today, November/December 2011


Forgiving happens inside the person who does it.

  • Forgiving is not about reunion.
  • Forgiving does not obligate us to go back.
  • Forgiving someone who did us wrong does not mean that we tolerate the wrong he or she did.
  • Forgiving does not mean that we want to forget what happened.
  • Forgiving does not mean that we excuse the person who did it.
  • Forgiving does not mean that we take the edge off the evil of what was done to us.
  • Forgiving does not mean that we surrender our right to justice.
  • Forgiving does not mean that we invite someone who hurt us once to hurt us again.

Lewis Smedes, The Art of Forgiving