Somewhere in your past, there is a tremendous hurt with which you are still struggling:
- An unwanted divorce
- Termination from your job
- A betrayed friendship
- Sexual abuse you experienced as a child
- A slanderous rumor that has robbed you of your reputation
You are probably asking yourself, “How can I forgive that person for doing those things to me,” or even “how can I forgive someone who hurt me?”
If you’ve spent any time in church at all, you probably have heard Jesus’ model of forgiveness, at least in general. You have heard that turning the other cheek is preferable to breaking your offender’s jaw. No doubt you’ve read God’s view on the importance of forgiveness in the pages of His Word, and you are genuinely grateful for a God who was willing to take on human flesh and die an excruciating death that you might be forgiven of your sins.
Why, then, is there such a disconnect between our understanding of forgiveness … and our willingness to grant it to others?
I believe the bottom-line issue of life is forgiveness. However, I’m also the first to admit: I’ve not yet mastered the art of eagerly implementing forgiveness in my life. I think of Chet Hodgin of Jamestown, New York. Chet is a devout Christian who understands what the Bible says about forgiveness: If the offender is asking forgiveness or is repentant, then the offender is be forgiven. That is where Chet draws the line. He has difficulty agreeing with the idea that Christians should offer “carte blanche” forgiveness for every sin committed against them.
The reason Chet believes as he does is because his son was killed in an armed robbery. Two years later, his other son was murdered by a man Chet had fired from his business. Neither of Chet’s sons’ killers have yet repented of their actions, therefore Chet feels no obligation to forgive.
- Is Chet right or wrong?
- Is Chet working from a Biblically sound theory or does he misunderstand God’s Word?
- Do some offenses fall outside the circle of grace?
- Are there times when forgiveness is too much to ask from a hurting victim?
- Does forgiveness let the offender off the hook too easily?
- Doesn’t forgiveness overlook another’s transgression?
- What happens when you blame God for your hurt?
Sometimes it’s a major crisis, like Chet’s story, that forces us to choose between forgiveness and unforgiveness.
Why are the forgiven not always the best forgivers? “Forgiveness,” C.S. Lewis once observed, “is a beautiful word, until you have something to forgive.”
The issue of forgiveness is so utterly important because it touches us every single day, in every way.
In our daily life, we’re hit with a barrage of those “pesky” lesser offenses that we must deal with — hurtful words from a friend, your child mistreated at school, your spouse’s shortcomings …
In my experience as a pastor, I’ve discovered that regardless of the size of the offense, forgiveness isn’t usually the preferred response. Why is that? Why do we Christians, who have been forgiven so much, have such difficulty forgiving others?
Christian, forgiveness is the obligation of the forgiven. God’s Word lays it out for you time and again. With every offense comes a choice. Through God’s supernatural enabling, we can let go of someone’s offense and become better, or we can hold on to that offense and become bitter.
Letting go promotes healing; holding on ensures infection. As someone once said, letting go of a rattlesnake might help the snake, but it benefits you as well. So how do you do it? How do you forgive the unforgiveable … release the bitterness … stop replaying the offense over and over again … begin to repair broken relationships. One of the best reasons for forgiving someone is not what it does for them, but what it does for you.
“Then Peter came and said to Him, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.’” (Matthew 18:21-22 NASB 1977)
You know that forgiveness is a Biblical concept. Somewhere along the way you also may have been warned about the physical, emotional, and spiritual consequences of unforgiveness. Most of all, you are genuinely grateful for a God who was willing to take on human form and die an excruciating death that you might be forgiven of your sins.
“When we genuinely forgive, we set a prisoner free and then discover that the prisoner we set free was us.”
Understand God’s forgiveness — only after we understand and experience our Father’s grace are we in a position to extend that grace to others.