What Forgiveness Isn’t

What Forgiveness Isn’t

Do justice to the afflicted and destitute.
—Psalm 82:3

Given the corrosive effects of bitterness on our bodies and emotions, not to mention the spiritual hazards of unforgiveness, why are we so reluctant to forgive those who wrong us? I think one reason people are reluctant to forgive other people is that they have a faulty understanding of what forgiveness is not.

First, forgiveness is not ignoring or rationalizing. Some people wrongly equate forgiveness with ignoring or diminishing the seriousness of an offense. How can anyone sweep under the rug physical abuse, sexual molestation, or the death of a child? To forgive someone does not require that we pretend the offense never happened. In fact, we cannot forgive an offense unless we acknowledge the reality and the seriousness of the wrong committed. We can only forgive those whom we are willing to blame.

Ignoring or rationalizing the offenses of others short-circuits the process of forgiveness. Forgiveness is a surgical procedure that allows us to remove the tumor of bitterness from our souls. However, before we can excise the tumor, we have to acknowledge that it exists.

Second, forgiveness is not surrendering our desire for justice. There is a difference between vengeance and justice. Vengeance is the desire to hurt those who have hurt us. The Bible warns us against avenging those who wrong us: “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19). God is much more capable of settling the score with our enemies than we are.

But while we are commanded not to seek vengeance, we cannot and should not surrender our desire for justice. Since we are created in the image of a righteous God who hates evil and punishes evildoers, it is natural that we desire to see child abusers incarcerated and murderers executed. Justice is the payment God and others demand from those who wrong us or other people. The Bible extols the desire for justice (Isaiah 1:17; Micah 6:8).

The difference between vengeance and justice is crucial to being able to forgive other people. Forgiveness means giving up our desire for vengeance, not our desire for justice.

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Today’s devotion is excerpted from “How Can I Know How to Forgive Someone Who Has Hurt Me?” by Dr. Robert Jeffress, 2012.

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.