Who do you want to be – the one who is quick to forgive and slow to anger? Or the one who holds a grudge and lives with stress and without peace? Forgiveness is never easy. Indeed, forgiving the one who caused us pain can feel more painful than the wound we received. It is natural to get angry, holding offense against people who wrong us. Likewise, there are some people who are unable to forgive themselves. Because they choose not to let go of their former immoral actions, they can’t get over their past. I like how the theologian Lewis Smedes said, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was YOU.” Whether we are forgiving ourselves or others, forgiveness will set us free. How can we do it? Let’s take a look at what God revealed to me in the area of forgiveness.
It is typical of human nature that we even get angry with God at times. We think He should be there for us when we face unfortunate circumstances. We may think, “Why is God allowing this suffering to besiege me?” Then, acting as a rebellious child, we convince ourselves that we have a reason to hold a grudge against Him. Similarly, we treat others in our lives with the same unforgiving spirit.
Some people may think that forgiveness is a form of weakness, saying, “Why let an undeserving person win the battle?” On the contrary, forgiveness is an act of strength – a state of maturity in grace. It is obedience to God’s will. If God has forgiven us, who are we not to forgive others? Having said that, we cannot forgive by our own effort. We may try and try for many years, finally realizing that we are unable to just “get over it”.
There is a gift attached to forgiveness. This God-given gift is Peace – the peace that no one and nothing on earth can give us. If we ask the Lord with a childlike heart, He will bless us with His gift of peace, which surpasses all of our understanding. Once you taste this unfathomable harmony, you will understand the peace of God. With His help, you are able to pardon someone not because she/he deserves it, but because God commands it. We let the person go, thereby releasing ourselves from the bondage of restless feelings. Similarly, when you forgive yourself, you are released from the prison that you have built for yourself with your own hands.
“The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.” (Psalm 29:11)
We all struggle from time to time with discouragement and outrage. If you read my previous post about “Hatred and Betrayal”, you’ll remember my unpleasant experience of conflict with an individual. After that painful encounter, I had a hard time getting over my distress and hurt. In fact, I carried the pain of it with me for a couple of months. I’m just as broken as everyone else, making mistakes daily. I hate contentiousness and the uncomfortable feelings it produces. I try my hardest to look for answers to life’s hard questions in God’s Word and in His signs. Of course I prayed about this matter day and night, asking God to forgive me and give me the power to forgive the other person. If you look up the meaning of forgiveness in the Bible, it’s described as a “release” or a “dismissal” of someone or something. Then it explains how God has forgiven us through the death of Jesus on the cross, providing the blessing of abundant and eternal life to whoever believes in His teaching, death and resurrection.
I continued to seek God’s word to learn to forgive. This is what I discovered from Jesus’ teachings concerning forgiveness.
(Matthew 18:21-23) “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.”
Because of the pain and raw emotion that I felt during my time of unforgiveness, my desperation for peace of mind grew deeper. I noticed that a particular bible verse (Matthew 18:21-23) seemed to be popping up everywhere – in church sermons, Bible study, on Christian radio, and during my devotional time. The Lord was urging me to forgive those who had hurt me. But my initial response to Him was, “No, Lord! I am tired of forgiving them repeatedly. How many times do you expect me to forgive someone who hurts me?” I was carrying the heavy weight of unforgiveness on my shoulders constantly. Finally the Lord showed me a bold sign. One afternoon I was at the grocery store. When I got to the cashier, the lady at the register handed me my receipt, saying, “Today is your lucky day! You should go and buy a lottery ticket”. I said, “How so?” She said, “Look at the total on your receipt.” I couldn’t believe it! The total was $77.77.
I immediately grasped the significance as God reminded me of the verse which had been so noticeable in recent days, the one telling me “Forgive everyone not seven times, but rather seventy-seven times.”
Beyond any doubt, the Lord graciously hit me with the bold numbers. He was telling me, “Let go and let Me take care everything.” So, by His grace and mercy, I completely let go and let God….
My struggle faded away after that day. From my perspective, my relationship with those involved in the confrontation immediately improved, all because I got out of the “wrestling ring”. I don’t know how they felt, but as for me, I truly felt the peace of God deep within. I kept returning to His word, and when I read what the Lord commands us in (Leviticus 19:18), I was even more comforted (especially with the ending words).
“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I AM THE LORD.”
God reminds us that He is the Lord, not us. If we don’t forgive and let go of our malice, we are acting as God and judging others. WOE UNTO US! We are setting ourselves up for a hard fall.
Unfortunately, some cultures delight in revenge rather than forgiveness. They might seem like some of the nicest people on the planet, yet when it comes to forgiving and letting bygones be bygones, they refuse. They respond with evil for someone’s mistake or immaturity, saying, “I will do this or that to put ‘so and so’ to shame”. Is that the way a mature person handles someone’s wrongdoing? It is natural to feel angry and anger is not a sin. But what we do with our anger may lead to sin. If you think carefully, you will see that revenge brings out the worst in you and lowers you to the same level as your offender.
I don’t get it. How can revenge ever hope to resolve the pain that was caused consciously or unconsciously by someone? Again God says in (Colossians 3:13) “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
This is how I now see forgiveness vs. unforgiveness. Unforgiveness is a poison that will eat us from the inside. It harms our physical, mental, emotional, and relational self. On the other hand, forgiveness brings health, unity, and harmony to our homes and our communities. Now more than ever, we need forgiveness in the world. Not only will it build a strong self, it will also grow a yielding and harmonious community.
After all, forgiveness is an expression of love, mercy, and grace, helping us to move forward. It is a decision to not hold something against another person, despite what she/he has done to you. It means resisting the desire to pursue revenge, and instead seeking to make things right.
Here is the most important question for you – Have you experienced God’s forgiveness in your own life? If you haven’t, or if you are on defense, ask Jesus to come into your heart and life. Surrender yourself to Him. Then pray for the person who hurt you, that they will realize their own need for God’s forgiveness and give their life to Christ. Then, not only you will witness God’s power, but also the world around you will begin to change.
“And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins,” (Mark 11:25)
If you agree to the verse above, say, “Amen!”