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 rose up despite my attempts to overcome them through forgiveness. 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 about good things. Resentment and revenge plots certainly don’t fit in that category. So how do we Christians 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 think illustrates the concept of forgiveness quite well. It is the story of a valuable teapot that was smashed to smithereens by a woman named Nettie. Nettie might have accidentally let it slip from her hands. Maybe she deliberately threw 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 broken beyond repair. Yet the owner forgave Nettie for causing the loss of a cherished heirloom.
I think about a special teapot that I proudly display in my glassed-in wall unit in my dining room. When I was a child, my mother told me the story of how it was passed on to her from her great-grandmother. She carefully brought it over to Canada from Europe in the 1950s and treasured it. It was never used. Then I think about someone smashing it. Could I forgive the perpetrator after the urge to strangle him or her passed?
Forgiveness is a process that starts with accepting loss. If someone broke my precious, irreplaceable heirloom. I would have to accept the loss of my teapot and all that it entailed, such as losing a reminder of my childhood and a part of my heritage. The teapot is gone and can never be restored.
Steps to Forgiving Others
Accepting the consequences of offenses
When people 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, however, we need to acknowledge that we have lost something we value.
Look to Christ as an example
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 Do Not Want to Forgive
We want to deny that we have been hurt
There are many reasons why we don’t let go and forgive. One reason is that we want to stuff our hurt deep down and deny our pain. We avoid facing the issue of forgiveness by running from it.
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. We may become bitter over time.
We think unforgiveness does not hold offenders accountable
Another reason we don’t forgive is that we feel that pardoning an offender is getting 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.
Unforgiveness gives us an emotional payoff
We may choose not to forgive because our unforgiveness gives us an emotional payoff and a feeling that justice has been served. 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 a positive state that lead to emotional healing.
Do we Need an Apology Before Pardoning Someone?
Some people think that they need to have an apology before they can forgive, but the problem is that offenders often do not acknowledge they hurt us. Some people know they have hurt us or know and do not 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 with private information in the future.
We are wise if we are wary and careful around offenders in the future. We may choose to allow some people to rebuild our trust in them over time. Other people may 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 were physically attacked, we instinctively want to 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 us and will avenge us (Psalm 37).
Who Are We Really Punishing Offenders When We do not Forgive?
When we feel angry towards our offenders, we may have a false sense that we are punishing them. In truth, we are hurting ourselves the most and, at times, other innocent people.
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, a woman can forgive a man who raped her. She can resolve to let go of the humiliation, the violation, fear, and outrage she suffers 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 seem to 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 that are undefiled by sin. Jesus commanded that we are to love other people as we love ourselves. Abusive 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 women are verbally abused by our husbands, for example, it is time for them 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 arm's length.
In the book , bestselling author Adam Hamilton says that forgiveness is essential in surviving marital problems, helping families staying together, and achieving lasting relationships. Forgiveness: Finding Peace Through Letting Go
Ultimately, forgiveness is for us. Forgiveness is a release from our prison of hurt and pain. We are free to enjoy life, assured that God will heal our hurts and avenge wrongdoings.
© 2013 Carola Finch