Colossians 3:12-13 Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13 Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.
“She hurt my feelings. I have forgiven her, but I still cant get past it.”
I heard those words spoken recently by someone I know. Strangely enough, the person who did the ‘hurting’ does not even know what she did, but nonetheless, rumors or a lack of accurate communication caused someone to feel hurt, and the relationship was damaged.
This got me to thinking – is forgiveness really forgiveness, if we cant get past the situation? Have we really forgiven, if we are still harboring bitter or resentful feelings towards that person? The Bible is clear that this is not the way Christ defines forgiveness, and it actually is not the way that the dictionary defines it either.
Forgiveness in the dictionary is stated to be: “to grant pardon to (a person); to cease to feel resentment against; to cancel an indebtedness or liability of.”
Even in the secular definition, forgiveness describes not only pardoning an offense, but to no longer feel resentment for it anymore. To no longer focus on what happened, allowing it to play out in our minds over and over again, each time feeling worse and bigger, causing fragile feelings to bubble up again and again, creating a chasm of hurt and discouragement in our hearts.
So if we consider the way we are supposed to forgive as Christians, shouldnt that definition apply to us in an even deeper way?
I have been hurt before. Not just a little bit, but a lot. I have had people betray my trust, trample on my feelings, and treat me in rude or hateful ways. And I am the first to admit that it was hard to forgive them. In fact, I had to come to terms with my anger about the situation, and deal with my emotions, before I could even begin to process how God would want me to handle those situations. But I soon realized that holding on to the resentment that I had for people who hurt me, was only hurting me, not them.
I always remember the saying that says unforgiveness is like ingesting a toxic poison into your body, and then expecting someone else to die. We may think that holding onto resentment for that person is justified, but in Gods eyes, it means we have not really forgiven. And in reality, we are only hurting ourselves.
Matthew 18:21-22 from The Message Bible says this:
21At that point Peter got up the nerve to ask, “Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?” 22Jesus replied, “Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven.”
What He meant by that statement, was simply that our forgiveness is to have no limits, and that we have to forgive with our heart, not just our words. When we have truly forgiven someone, we no longer hold onto anger or resentment or bitter feelings about someone. We no longer feel animosity towards them, which allows us to cast the past behind us, cancel their debt, and wipe the slate clean. Just as Christ did for us – even though it was not deserved or earned, and sometimes, not even appreciated.
And in Matthew 6:14-15, we read: “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. 15 But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Now that my friend, is a terrifying thought if you ask me.
Forgiveness is a gift, from God to us, but a gift that is meant to shared.
I have experienced first hand the power of forgiveness in my life. Not only by forgiving others for their mistakes, but forgiving myself for my own mistakes. And many years ago, I discovered the freedom that could be found in Christ, by finally grasping what forgiveness really meant. I had to choose to believe that Gods grace was meant for me, and it has helped me to understand why God calls us to extend that same grace to others. The type of grace that is greater than seventy times seven, and more.
As I mentioned, I have been hurt. I have been mad and bitter. I have harbored unforgiveness and found it hard to forgive. I have held back forgiveness because I felt the person did not deserve it. But the more I pleaded for God to not only help me forgive, but also forget, the more I felt Him empowering me to do just that.
Nothing characterizes us more than our ability forgive – and nothing can damage our hearts, and our relationships, and our faith walk, like unforgiveness.
Forgiveness makes us a new creation. It frees our heart to focus on the good things, not the bad. It allows us to put the past where it belongs, and move forward in our faith. Forgiveness is not something that comes naturally for us mortals – it is something holy and unselfish – which is why we so desperately need a Savior.
We can do all things through Him, and that includes forgiving someone who has hurt us. That forgiveness does not mean that the person didnt do wrong, and will not have to answer for their own actions one day, but it means that we can be free from being held hostage by anger and hurt – a freedom that once found, is priceless.