How can we remove the pain, hurt and guilt of broken relationships? How can we put forgiveness into practice?
Most of us have experienced the feelings: pain too deep to express, too deeply ingrained for tears. Sorrow that does not go away. Guilt that holds us captive. Bitterness and anger that fuel resentment and hate. Accusing, condemning and blaming others for our anguish and hurts.
There are times when all of us can relate to feeling and acting this way. We suspend love and personal responsibility by tuning into the baser thoughts and influences that hold us captive. When we feel sorely sinned against, our first impulse is to strike back, to exact revenge. But Jesus advises, "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I tell you not to resist an evil person ..." (Matthew 5:38-39)
And how do we put that into practice? He continues: "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven" (verses 43-45, emphasis added throughout).
We see, then, that a beginning point of this healing process is to be proactive in following the advice and directive of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. "And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him ..." (Mark 11:25). The stakes are very high! Jesus tells us to forgive others so "your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses" (verses 25-26).
The Awesome Power of Forgiveness
How many times have we read these passages—and frankly, been somewhat puzzled and even frustrated by them? We need to look at forgiveness as a total and awesome blessing, one that can absolutely free us from guilt and heal hurts and pain. Christ tells us that not only can we forgive others, but that forgiving them is a condition for our receiving forgiveness from God for our own sins and faults.
Forgiveness is a key that unlocks the door of resentment and the handcuffs of hate. It is a power that breaks the chains of bitterness and the shackles of selfishness.
History offers a lesson from the time of George Washington, when he was commander-in-chief of the American colonial army. Church pastor Peter Miller was much loved by the townsfolk—except by one villager who scorned all religion and opposed the church on every issue. No friend of the colonial cause, this man was arrested for treason and sentenced to die.
Peter Miller walked 60 miles to plead with George Washington for the man's pardon. Regretfully the general shook his head, "I'm sorry, but I cannot grant your request to spare your friend." Quietly Miller replied, "My friend? He is my worst enemy." Amazed, Washington exclaimed: "What! You have walked all this distance to save an enemy? Then how can I do other than pardon him!"
Reactions to Being Wronged
It's so easy to react according to emotions, human reasoning and the divisive influence of Satan, who wants to see us permanently antagonistic toward and estranged from one another. We react to wrongs in different ways. Sometimes, not wanting to make waves, we try to simply ignore a wrong and in doing so convince ourselves that we have "forgiven" it. But then we wonder why the hurt and pain do not go away. This is not true forgiveness.
And sometimes we refuse to forgive out of pride. Have we ever felt that a wrong was simply too great to be forgiven? Yes, we would forgive, we say to ourselves, but first the offender would need to learn a lesson. Or we may have felt too hurt to consider forgiveness. If we feel this way, our own pride—"foolish pride," as it is often rightly called—prevents or inhibits us from forgiving.
However, God's Word does not make such allowances. The apostle Paul instructs us: "Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' says the Lord. On the contrary: 'If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head' " (Romans 12:17-21, NIV).
Consider the example of the apostle Paul forgiving and admonishing the brethren at Corinth to forgive a member earlier expelled from the congregation for his sins. "The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him" (2 Corinthians 2:6-8, NIV).
We need to be in the forgiving business, said Paul. It is far better to forgive than to harbor resentment or hate.
Steps to Forgiveness
From the mind and from the heart, in word and in deed, we should say, "I forgive—I forgive everyone who has hurt me or wronged me." We should forgive and then forget the wrongs — only remembering the lessons learned.
We must keep in mind why the blood of Christ was shed: "for the forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:28, NIV) — our sins as well as the sins of others—and "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness" (Hebrews 9:22, NIV).
Our conscience, mind and heart can be changed. The blood of Christ can purge our minds from dead works (Hebrews 9:14)—both our own misdeeds as well as those of others. We must tell ourselves to forgive—and we must also pray to God about it. We may also have to ask God's help for the spiritual strength to forgive.
Just as faith without works is dead (James 2:26), half-hearted attempts at superficial forgiveness without following through is also dead. It will not bring the desired result. You will not be freed from the captivity of pain, guilt and hurt. Healing cannot begin and you will not have peace of mind without fully forgiving. Remember God will not allow more to come upon you than you are able to bear. He will always provide a way of escape, a way to handle it. "No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it" (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Forgiveness is one of the ways of escape God has provided, if we individually choose to accept and act on it. Or we can choose to remain in captivity to our feelings. Do we sometimes ask God for emotional and spiritual healing, all the while rejecting the way for healing He has provided — forgetting that it requires active forgiveness—faith with works?
Fruits of Forgiveness
Make no mistake about it. Forgiving does not condone wrongdoing. Nor does it suggest that the offender should go scot-free. But it does call for sympathetic understanding of the pressures that led to the transgression, plus a willingness to help the guilty one. You may begin by saying to yourself "I forgive ." Perhaps say that you forgive, speaking the person's name. Say it internally, first to yourself. Then in private say it out loud. Then say it to God. Then, in the proper circumstances, say it to the other person. As we grow in practicing forgiveness, we are released from the guilt, freed from the pain and sorrow gripping us as a result of our lack of forgiveness. We begin to heal immediately when we forgive. The beginning of healing is not dependent on whether the offender repents or says he or she is sorry—it begins with saying, "I forgive you."
Not only do we begin to be freed from pain and hurt and sorrow—we are guaranteed forgiveness of our sins every time we repent and ask forgiveness. When we ask God's forgiveness, we should accept that forgiveness to free us from the guilt and anguish the sin caused. John tells us, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).
That forgiveness is complete. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow," God tells us (Isaiah 1:18). Through King David He tells us: "For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him" (Psalm 103:11-13).
These promises should encourage us to exercise living faith in Christ's assurances that if we forgive others, we will be forgiven. He guarantees us that "All things are possible to him who believes" (Mark 9:23). We should act on that promise and put forgiving into action!
Christ's Model Prayer Teaches Total Forgiveness
Let's remind ourselves of the importance of forgiveness as shown in the model prayer Jesus Christ gave us to follow, believe and emulate. " pray: ' "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors" (Matthew 6:9-12). "Forgive" here means literally "to send forth, send away" ( Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, 1984, "forgive").
"For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins" (verses 14-15). In practice, it's easier to forgive someone if you don't stew over what the person did. Catch yourself before you begin to fall into bitterness, hardheartedness or pride. You will be a bitter, lonely person if you can't forgive and forget.
Also, ask God to forgive the sin the person committed, and to bless him or her-and to lead, with mercy and patience, him or her to repentance. You become a partner with God in pursuing that person's forgiveness and restoration.
Remember that Jesus Christ suffered far more injustice than we ever will. Although He was deeply hurt by His enemies and friends alike, He did not worry about His own feelings. He never let pride or self-pity sway Him. His concern was for others, wanting to save them from their own unfortunate mistakes and sins. He never ceased loving those who treated Him spitefully. And in all things He was willing to patiently trust in God's timetable for the reconciliation of mankind. He expects the same of us.
Daily Forgiveness in Action
Norman Vincent Peale asked Gene Tunney, a former world heavyweight champion, "How did you get a body like that?" Gene replied, "Every single day I push against tremendous resistance and it sculpted my body into what you see today and made me a champion."
All things are possible if you believe they are possible and exercise faith by taking action. Every day practice resisting any temptation to be unforgiving so you can be sculpted by God into a champion—not to receive an earthly crown or title, but an eternal one.
Are you prepared to forgive from the heart—every day? Even "seventy times seven" times a day? (Matthew 18:22). God is always ready to forgive. "For you Lord, are good, and ready to forgive ..." (Psalm 86:5).
Forgiveness helps create a bond of God-plane love. Sometimes it's tough to forgive. Yes, offenses can hurt. And, maybe the offender isn't sorry, but with Christ in us (Galatians 2:20) and God with us we can forgive. Remember, it was "While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).
Forgiveness does not come naturally; it must become habitual . When practiced daily it becomes a virtue that glorifies God, it sweetens and glorifies life, releasing us from the burdens and captivity of pains and hurts.
As our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was crucified, one of His last acts was expressing love and mercy toward others. "Father forgive them , for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).
If Jesus, who did not sin even once, could forgive others—including those who tortured and killed Him without remorse— surely we who have sinned and do sin can learn to forgive those who sin against us. And when we do, as we repent of our sins we are guaranteed full forgiveness. Our sins are paid for by the blood of Christ. The healing of hurt, pain, sorrow, guilt and anguish will follow. Liberty from their captivity is sure.
With God's willing help, you can do it! Forgive, and you shall be forgiven. GN