Yet Another Article On Forgiveness
Here is a fresh look at some of the issues surrounding Christians forgiving other people.
As a Christian woman, I sometimes feel flogged with articles, Bible verses and sermons about forgiveness. I know that I should forgive the people that hurt me. It’s right there in the Lord’s Prayer and throughout the Bible – I have to forgive others if I expect God to forgive me (Matthew 6:15, Luke 6:37, Colossians 3:13). Yet the human part of me cries out against it.
So many people have abandoned, exploited, bullied and rejected me. My hurt and anger against them sometimes rises up in spite of my attempts to overcome them by forgiving them. My human nature doesn’t want to extend mercy. I wanted to wallow in fury and pain and take revenge. This is a toxic state that hurts me more than anyone else. As Joyce Meyers says, it’s like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die.
God says that He wants us to be in good health and prosper (3 John 2). He tells Christians to love their fellow man and think on good things. Resentment and revenge plots certainly don’t fit in that category.
So how do we Christians actually move into forgiveness? What is this process and how do we do it?
The story of the teapot
I heard a story a while ago that I believe illustrates the concept of forgiveness quite well. It is the story of a teapot. Grandma had a teapot that was quite valuable. One day, someone we will call Nettie broke it. Nettie might have accidentally let it slip from her hands. She may have deliberately thrown it against a wall in a fit of temper. She may have broken it to upset the owner in revenge for some slight. For whatever reason, there is the teapot. Smashed to smithereens. Yet Grandma forgives Nettie.
I think about a special teapot that I proudly display in my glassed-in wall unit in my dining room. When I was growing up, my mother told me the story on how it was passed on to her from her great-grandmother. She carefully brought it over to Canada from Europe in 1950 and treasured it. It was never used. Then I think about someone smashing it. Could I forgive that person after the urge to strangle them passed?
Forgiveness is a process that starts with accepting loss. Say someone broke my precious, irreplaceable heirloom. I would have to accept the loss of my teapot and all that it entailed, such losing a reminder of my childhood and a part of my heritage. The teapot is gone and can never be restored.
Accepting the consequences of sin
When people commit a sin against us, there are devastating consequences. We suffer loss, whether it be a broken object that is gone forever, lost innocence, broken trust, betrayal or physical pain. We also suffer terrible emotional pain.
We naturally respond to hurts with a barrage of negative emotions such as anger, fear and anxiety. Before we can move on to forgiveness, we need to acknowledge that harm has been done to us.
Forgiveness is a skill that we learn from God. It does not come to us naturally. Christ is our example. Even when he was dying, he asked that God forgive the people who were involved in his torture and crucifixion (Luke 23;34).
We cannot forgive others on our own strength. We need to pray to God for His support and lean on Him instead of our own understanding.
Why we don’t want to forgive
There are many reasons why we don’t let go and forgive. One reason is that we want to stuff and deny our pain. We avoid facing the issue of forgiveness by running from it. Unforunately, our emotions won't stay put.
The problem is that inside, we are an uncontrollable, seething volcano of negative emotions such as anger and hurt that spews lava everywhere, burning everything in sight. This state not only hurts us - it impacts the people around us.
Another reason we don’t forgive is because we feel that they are allowing the offender to go off scot-free. We think that seething in anger is somehow hurting them instead of us. Whatever happens, we are the ones being damaged by our toxic emotions.
We may choose not to forgive because our unforgiveness gives us an emotional payoff and a feeling that justice has been served, but instead, our anger robs us of energy and time that God wants us to focus on having a fruitful, positive life. When we let go of our negative emotions through forgiveness, we can replace them with good ones that lead to emotional healing.
Do we need an apology before granting forgiveness?
Some people think that they need to have an apology before they can forgive, but the problem is that people often don’t acknowledge how they hurt us. Some people know they have hurt us and don’t care. Others take perverse pleasure in being cruel to us. Others are clueless as to how their words or actions affect others.
It doesn’t make sense for us to stew over our hurts. Many perpetrators are out there enjoying their lives without a thought about the havoc they have wrecked on our lives. Shouldn't we be free and happy, too? When we allow our wounds to continue to fester, we are giving the offenders an open door to hurt us again and again.
Forgive and forget?
Do we forgive and forget? We forget in the sense that we are not constantly thinking about and dwelling on the violation against us. We would not be wise, however, to forget the offense entirely. If, for example, a friend betrays a trust by blabbing our secrets, we would be foolish to trust them.
We are wise if we are wary and careful in the future. We may choose to allow people to rebuild our trust in them over time. Other people will never be trustworthy.
Vengeance belongs to God
If the people who hurt us are in our lives, we are tempted to torture them with anger and bitter words. If we are physically attacked, we instinctively fight back. We want to allow pain to fester and plot our revenge, but God claims vengeance for Himself. (Romans 12:17-19) As believers, we have to trust that God sees how people have offended against us and will avenge us (Psalm 37).
Who are we really punishing when we don’t forgive?
When we feel angry towards our offenders, we may have a false sense that we are punishing them. In truth, we hurt ourselves the most.
Personally, I have decided that my time is so valuable that I am not going to give my offender one more minute of my life by fretting over their sins against me. I want my time to be spent leading the good life God has planned for me with joy and peace of mind
The difference between forgiveness and accountability
Some people don’t understand the difference between forgiveness and accountability. For example, woman can forgive a man who raped her. She can resolve to let go of the humiliation, the violation, fear and outrage she feels because of the attack.
However, the rapist is still accountable for his actions because he broke the laws of God and man. He should go to prison not only to pay for his crime, but also to protect other women from him.
I heard a pastor speak on forgiveness recently. He spoke about a woman who endured years of verbal abuse from a man and kept pardoning him as an example of forgiveness. I found this example disturbing because the abuser was not held accountable and did not suffer consequences for his behavior. No one has the right to verbally, physically or sexually abuse another human being.
Forgiveness does not mean we condone sin. By tolerating bad behavior, we are telling the perpetrators that it is OK to abuse and hurt us. God says that we are temples and His children (1 Corinthians 3:16). Temples are holy places undefiled by sin. Jesus commanded that we are to love other people as we love ourselves. Any other kind of treatment is sin.
Sometimes, we must take action to stop the abusive behavior such as confrontation. Confrontation doesn't always work, however, and should not be attempted if it puts us in danger.
If we are women being verbally abused by our husbands, for example, it is time to seek help and leave the marriage. Some of us may need to sever our contact with former friends who have become toxic in some way. We may need to keep others at arms length.
Ultimately, forgiveness is for us. Forgiveness is a release from the prison of hurt and pain. We are free to enjoy life, assured that God will heal our hurts and avenge our wrongs.
© 2013 Carola Finch