Forgiveness isn’t always easy, especially when we’ve been hurt to the core. At some point in life we may all struggle to forgive, but hanging on to anger, resentment and even thoughts of revenge only cause self-imposed suffering. Ultimately we become both the prisoner and the jailer.
Yesterday a friend told me about a man who was estranged from his father for many years. On the father’s deathbed, he asked his son to come visit — he wanted to make ammends. The son refused, saying, “Why should I go see him? He neglected us for all of these years, and now he’s dying and wants to make peace? No way.”
We may not feel like forgiving right after being hurt, but how can we ultimately go the distance as an “unforgiving Christian?” It seems a bit like living a double life, especially since in the “Our Father,” we ask God to forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Are they just empty words?
Forgiving Frees Us
Forgiveness doesn’t justify harmful behavior, and it doesn’t necessarily mean we will continue relating to those who hurt us in the same way, but it does set us free of a huge burden that only God can make right.
Learning to forgive… and not just on the surface, but from the heart… is a transformational process that takes place on a soul level. It is a selfless act in line with God’s will. Even Jesus–as He was being killed–prayed for God to forgive. While soldiers mocked him and gambled for his clothes by throwing dice, he prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”
Forgiveness opens our hearts. It frees us from pain we could otherwise carry with us — even for years and years. But it isn’t always a solo act. God can help us when we’re struggling to forgive.
What the Bible Says About Forgiveness
There are endless passages in the Bible about forgiveness. Here are just a few worth reflecting on if you struggle with forgiveness:
“Even if that person wrongs you seven times a day and each time turns again and asks forgiveness, you must forgive.” (Luke 17:4)
“But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.” (Mark 11:25)
“If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15)
“If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And what I have forgiven–if there was anything to forgive–I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake.” (2 Corinthians 2:10)
“This is what you are to say to Joseph: ‘I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly. Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.’ When their message came to him, Joseph wept.” (Genesis 50:17)