See pt. 1
It’s Hard to Forgive
The command to forgive is simple, the execution isn’t. Forgiveness can make me feel vulnerable to more pain. And it’s hard to forgive when what happened was particularly hurtful. Perhaps a friend humiliated me in front of a crowd. Perhaps a boss fired me to cover up for their mistakes. Or maybe my wife betrayed me for another man. There are endless scenarios I could come up with: all painful, all unjust. In all I feel I’m owed some sort of justice, some debt, back.
This is why forgiveness can also feel very wrong. I might feel whoever hurt me deserves to pay, deserves to suffer at least or more than I did, or worse: they could never suffer or pay enough. So I don’t forgive. Maybe that’s why it’s more satisfying, if not easier, to retaliate for a wrong. The guy owes me $5k in damages anyway, so why not exact a few bucks’ worth by wringing his pencil neck? And when I do make him hurt, I get pleasure that I righted a wrong.
But how can anyone know they’ve really righted anything? We don’t have access to God’s scoreboard to be able to tell. And what if I went past payback and into debt myself? Instead, shouldn’t I focus instead on how much and whom to forgive?
It sometimes helps to be in the sinner’s shoes to better understand the power of forgiveness. Because when I’m the cause of pain, I’ll know what it’s like to crave forgiveness but not receive it. I’ve been there a lot, since I’ve hurt people a lot. I’ve been up and down the spectrum of wrongdoing. I’ve insulted my closest friends. I’ve given snarky and salty critiques to enemies. I’ve even outright physically attacked people. I’ve in fact both punched and been punched in the face. I’ve both humiliated and been humiliated. And I’ve both betrayed and been betrayed. I guess we all wear similar size shoes.
Sometimes, even if a friend has forgiven me, I just don’t accept it because I think my debt is way too high, my injustice way too wrong. That’s called guilt, though some might prefer the word “conviction”. Yet both can lead to beating myself up for not being good enough, not trying hard enough, or not being worthy enough of forgiveness. This self-flagellation is condemnation, and alone it’s bad enough. But when it really begins to hurt is when forgiveness is withheld from me. So maybe that’s why when I’m owed something myself, holding the grudge feels so good: it’s a form of vengeance.
What do I do when I owe someone something? When I am the debtor? When I am in need of the forgiveness? Jesus said:
“So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.” (Matthew 5:23-24 NLT)
Back then, Temple worship with its sacrifices was highly important. God specifically prescribed in the Law of Moses each and every part of the ceremonies and rituals. Jesus was radically turning the Jewish world upside down by telling them it was just as important to address grudges with a brother or sister as it was to fulfill the duty of sacrifice.
But this all makes sense once we understand that Jesus tied love for God and love for others closely together:
“Jesus replied, “‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”” (Matthew 22:37-40 NLT)
So even if I had the fattest, most juicy sacrifices to express to God how much I loved Him, what good would it do while my brother is hurting? It actually causes my brother to sin when he hates me for hurting him, like the Apostle John wrote:
“If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see?” (1 John 4:20 NLT)
So my seeking forgiveness actually helps both me and the one I hurt. Because by erasing hatred and grudges, we both can truly love God again. In this way, relationships are restored when the two greatest commandments can be followed once more. Perhaps knowing this, then, can help you and me give more forgiveness, and give it more freely and more fully.