The call to forgive others lies at the heart of the Christian message.
But that doesn’t make forgiveness easy.
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 helps us feel like the debt has been satisfied.
Much of our struggle comes 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.” Our rationalizations leave us stuck in bitterness or holding grudges.
The truth is 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.
Even once we’ve sorted through common misconceptions, forgiveness can still be tough. Remember Jonah, God’s prophet? He wanted the Lord to decimate Ninevah for their sin, not to forgive them. He 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. God can do a lot 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, 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 the process of letting go. We forgive to the degree that we’re able at the time. Then, as we move forward, 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 Focus on the Family Broadcast “Forgiving the Past, Embracing the Future,” 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 on your local radio station, online, on Apple Podcasts, via Google Podcasts, or take us with you on our free phone app. We’ll be discussing Deborah’s book, Forgive, Let Go, and Live, which is available for a gift of any amount. For more information, visit our website.
If you’re struggling with forgiveness, we have caring Christian counselors on staff, and it would be their privilege to offer you a free consultation. Call us, leave your name and number, and they’ll get back with you just as soon as possible. The number during business hours is 1-800-A-FAMILY (232-6459).