The call to forgive others lies at the heart of the Christian message.
But that doesn’t make it easy.
Forgiveness is tough. The human heart is wired for justice. When somebody sins against us, the hurt we feel is a cry for wrongs to be made right again. And when they can’t be, we often want the other person to suffer in some way that will help us feel that the debt has been satisfied. At least, we tell ourselves this is true.
Much of that struggle is from not knowing what forgiveness is and what it isn’t, or from naively believing that we can forgive the unforgiveable if we grit our teeth and try hard enough. We confuse “forgiving” with “excusing.” It’s why we end up stuck in bitterness and grudges. We misinterpret forgiveness to mean that what someone did to us is okay.
But that is not true. Forgiveness never excuses the wrongs against us or waters down the awful nature of an offense. Forgiveness doesn’t pretend that something didn’t happen. Forgiveness acknowledges the ugliness of the sin against us, no matter how dark, then sets us free, not the other person. Forgiveness releases our heart, heals our pain, and allows us to move forward through life in peace.
It’s a beautiful experience when we surrender to it. But even once you’ve sorted through common misconceptions and believe there’s good on the other side, forgiveness can still be tough. Remember Jonah, God’s prophet? Jonah wanted the Lord to decimate Ninevah for their sin, not to forgive them. Jonah wanted justice his way, not God’s.
We’re all capable of acting like Jonah, which is why forgiveness starts by trusting God with our pain. There is a lot God can do through our wounds. After Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, he told them, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20). God can use our pain. He may have lessons for us to learn or important life skills for us to develop. He may even be positioning and strengthening us for something greater in life. But even when there’s no obvious practical outworking that we can see, I believe we can still trust God not to waste our pain.
God asks us to forgive, but He doesn’t ask us to do it alone. He walks with us through all of those life-changing encounters that are forever imprinted in our minds. He walks with us through the process of letting go. We forgive to the degree that we’re able at the time. Then as we move forward with God, our healing allows us to forgive a little more. Through forgiveness, we heal, which in turn leads to deeper healing and deeper forgiveness. And so it goes.
On our broadcast today, we want to teach you how to forgive. Our guest is speaker and author Deborah Pegues. As she tells it, she inherited a legacy of bitterness. Her mom and dad argued until violence erupted. Deborah’s childhood was so chaotic that, even at a young age, she remembers thinking, “There’s got to be a better way to live than staying angry and bitter all the time.”
If you’ve been looking for a better way to live, please join us for our program “Forgiving the Past, Embracing the Future.” We’ll be discussing Deborah’s book, Forgive, Let Go, and Live. Tune in on your local radio station, online, or on our free phone app. We have Deborah’s book and other helpful resources for you in our online bookstore.