Offering forgiveness is one of the hardest things God calls us to do. It’s funny, really, because it’s such a pleasant gift to receive, but a real gut punch to extend. It’s like the wind at your back versus the wind in your face; the direction it’s going has a pretty significant effect on how we feel about it.
While there are many reasons why forgiving others is challenging, I think there are three reasons worth thinking about. The first is that harboring unforgiveness makes us feel like we’re in control. When someone hurts us, betrays us, takes something from us, or abandons us, clutching unforgiveness is the one thing we still have to hang on to. If we give that up, what do we have left?
This leads us to a second problem. We don’t trust God to make things right. Put another way, we wonder if He’ll truly mete out justice the way we would. Can we really trust Him with our pain, or to deal with our offender. And, thirdly, it’s really hard to forgive others when we don’t recognize our own need for forgiveness. It’s truly remarkable how blind I can be to the ways I hurt other people, and yet I have eagle eyes when spotting another person’s sin against me.
So, what are we to do? Well, we start with what Jesus tells us, and that is to forgive those who have sinned against us (Matt. 6:12). From the most egregious sins to the petty ones, Jesus doesn’t tell us it’s extra good of us if we decide to forgive, rather He commands it. The good news is that whatever Jesus commands us to do, He enables us to do. So, let’s begin here—we must forgive, and He will help us do it.
While holding on to unforgiveness might make us feel like we’re in control, in reality we become a slave to it. And where unforgiveness is in charge, its closest friends are always close by—they go by the names of Bitterness, Anger, Revenge, Martyr, Cynic. But when we forgive, we release the person who hurt us to the Lord. We trust Him to handle it. We transfer the load from ourselves to His capable hands (1 Pet. 4:19). He is a good Father, perfectly just, all capable, righteous Judge. We can trust Him with our offenders.
Finally, the more in touch we are with the forgiveness Jesus has given us, the more freely we’ll offer forgiveness to others. In Matthew 18:21-35, Jesus tells a story of a servant who owed His master 6,000 denarii. The servant didn’t have the money to pay and pleaded with his master not to sell him and his family to pay the debt. Surprisingly, the master had compassion on his servant, released him, and forgave his debt. In a shocking turn of events, the servant who had been forgiven turned around and choked a man who owed him only one hundred denarii. The story is clear: Jesus had tremendous mercy on us, and we are to have mercy on others. In fact, Jesus tells us to forgive “from our hearts” (Matt. 18:35).
Oh, yes, we will need Him to help us do this. We will need Him to change our hearts. We will need Him every step of the way. Let us start by remembering the mercy He has shown us. And surely forgiveness will begin to flow.