I’m not sure anything is more difficult, or has greater power to heal, than granting forgiveness to another person who has hurt us. The dynamic seems to be in my life that the deeper the hurt, the more difficult it is to forgive.
Sometimes we hold on to resentment and pain in anger. We can’t seem to get beyond the pain to let go of the anger. But someone has said that holding on to resentment and anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. It’s a completely ineffective strategy.
Sometimes we hold on to resentment and pain because of justice. They wounded me deeply, and they deserve to be punished for it. Sometimes this form of unforgiveness takes the shape of inner satisfaction when something goes wrong for the other person—like they are being paid back by God for what they did to me. But Jesus told us we should not expect to be forgiven if we are not will to forgive. (Matthew 6:9-15)
As long as we see forgiveness as an emotional response, we are likely to be stuck. We simply do not have to wait to feel like forgiving to forgive. If forgiveness depends upon our feelings, we might never get to the point where we are willing and able to forgive.
Forgiveness is an act of the will, not a feeling. In fact, many times choosing to forgiven results in release of angry, resentful feelings and brings emotional peace.
Justice is woven into the fabric of morality because it is grounded in the character of God. The God revealed in the Bible is Holy. He is just. He keeps accounts and will not allow sin to go unpunished forever. This God says sin should be punished “eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.” (Exodus 21:24) It’s only fair that the punishment should fit the crime.
Because we are created in God’s image, we have an instinctive bent toward the fairness of justice. We want to see people held accountable for the things they do to hurt others—at least when it’s not us who do the hurting. Of course, when we are the offender, we hope for mercy, rather than justice.
And Jesus gives mercy. God forgives our sins by our trust in the atoning death of His Son, Jesus Christ. Because the sin has already been paid for on the Cross, we can be forgiven for it in Christ. The mercy of God through the grace of God by faith in Jesus is simply breathtaking.
And it provides the backdrop for our forgiving others. “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:12) There it is. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. Because I have been forgiven much, I have the freedom and the calling to forgive much in others. Jesus told a story about a servant who was forgiven a crushing debt by his master, and then went out and demanded payment of a minor amount he had loaned to a fellow servant. The master was not at all pleased with his servant when he found out the one who had been forgiven much was not willing to forgive even a little.
This is where life is hard, but where our behavior reveals our maturity in Christ (or lack of it). Having been forgiven, am I willing to lay aside my emotions and grant forgiveness to another? Am I willing to ask God to show them mercy and lay down the demand that they be punished for what they did to me? Am I willing to leave them in the hands of the One who is Holy and Merciful, and trust that what they did to me will be paid for—either by the Cross or by them, as God deals with them and their choice to accept or reject Jesus?
If there is a hurt I am nursing and refusing to let go of, am I willing to lay it at the foot of the Cross and leave it with Jesus? That is the pathway to healing and freedom and peace. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. I know it’s difficult, but it’s also necessary. May God give us all grace to lay down anger and resentment and find peace through forgiving!