Written by Karen Carlson
Chances are, if you’re like most people, you’ve encountered one or more individuals in your life that have emotionally injured you in some way. When we’re emotionally wounded or even emotionally devastated by a friend, co-worker or family member, the typically human thing to do is to allow our anger to seek revenge and/or continually harbor bitterness and un-forgiveness.
It’s interesting, isn’t it, how we admire the virtue of forgiveness and find the saying “to error is human, but to forgive is divine” to be admirable and inspiring? Yet, when it becomes us who are in need of forgiving someone, we can back off and find it very difficult to embrace that adage. It’s so much easier to harbor the anger and find as much fault as possible with the person who jarred our psyche than to find forgiveness in our hearts. And here’s something to think about: in the end, the component that ultimately destroys a relationship is the inability to forgive. It could be infidelity, it could be a heated family dispute over inheritance or it could be a friend who betrayed one’s confidence. It isn’t the offense that destroys the relationship; it’s the inability to forgive the person who committed the wrongdoing. Offenses will come—it’s is part of life in a fallen world; but it’s how we deal with those offenses that determines the outcome of any given relationship that is being tried or tested.
Un-forgiveness—A double-edged Sword:
Un-forgiveness not only destroys a relationship, it also destroys the person who is unwilling to forgive—it’s self-destructive. Bitterness, hate, anger and retaliation are the impetus behind thousands and thousands of lawsuits in which angry people who are out for “blood” will do whatever they can to inflict as much punishment and pain as possible towards their transgressors.
Bitterness becomes like a malignant cancer—it won’t stay confined—it spreads and it’s a hateful, un-Christian attitude that harasses one’s emotions; it consumes happiness; feelings become unchecked; conversations become a forum for slandering those who created the resentments; and every conversation becomes an opportunity for defamation. It’s ugly; and more importantly, God despises that kind of behavior, especially from those who profess to love Him and obey Him.
Forgiveness Is Divine!
Forgiveness is the most God-like act one can do! No undertaking is more divine than forgiveness; and no one is more like God than when one genuinely forgives those who have been mean-spirited, conniving, insensitive, scheming, deceitful or cruel. Let’s take a look at a few passages that make it clear that forgiveness is from God’s realm and that we should treat forgiveness very seriously.
1.) Psalm 32: We read in the beginning of the psalm: “How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity…” This is a blessing from God where He tells us that He forgives us.
2.) Psalm 85:2-3: “You forgave the iniquity of your people and covered all their sins…You set aside all your wrath and turned from your fierce anger.” God has the option to punish severely at His discretion, but throughout biblical history, God has, on many occasions, held back his anger and wrath due to His forgiving essence.
3.) Isaiah 1:18: this piece of Holy Scripture is, perhaps, one the most beautiful statements regarding God’s divine forgiveness towards us–“Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” God is telling us His forgiveness was given to His people in-spite of Israel’s sinister and perverse transgressions against Him. The We of today are included in God’s same plan of the washing away of our sins.
The Prodigal Son:
The Prodigal Son is a powerful and poignant biblical account, familiar to many, where, in Luke 15: 11-32, a young man leaves home and sins greatly by lavishly and foolishly spending his requested, and granted, early inheritance. When he finally returns home, remorseful for what he had done, he is embraced with unconditional forgiveness, immense joy and great celebration by his father—the father’s son has come back to his family; and with a sorrowful heart, he asks for mercy. In turn, he receives full, loving ‘son-ship.’ The embracing father—representing God who forgives, and the son—representing the lost, portrays the lavishness of God’s forgiveness towards those who seek genuine repentance and true reconciliation with those who (if this case the father and God,) were wronged through self-centered actions.
Make No Mistake:
You display God-like mercy when you choose to forgive others. And this brings us to the main point: God, in all His mercy, forgives us; and it is here where we must also forgive! Colossians 3:13 vividly reminds us that just as the Lord has forgiven us, so too, must we forgive others.
But why would God be so emphatic about why we must forgive?
Yes, it allows us an opportunity to be more Christ-like, it is pleasing to God, it frees us from the bondage of bitterness, it repairs broken relationships and it puts peace in our hearts—but there is more. If you are a Christ follower, you have the responsibility to forgive and let go of any feelings of hate, vengeance, scorn, contention and malice. This may sound hard to do. But Jesus never said being a Follower of Him would ever be easy—but He did say it would be worth it! If we do not forgive, the Bible makes it clear there is a price; and it is staggering.
Let’s look at Matthew 6 where Jesus teaches His disciples The Lord’s Prayer that says, “Forgive us our debts and forgive our debtors.” Then, in verses 13-15, Jesus continues and says, “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”—straight forward, and to the point. To not understand forgiveness, is to not understand Christianity. Un-forgiveness is non-negotiable. As I attempt to display the gravity of the situation, I would say this: the thing that should really motivate us is our clear understanding the seriousness of choosing not to forgive another person. It bears repeating: If you refuse to forgive, God will not forgive—“But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins”—can anyone afford that steep of a price?
God forgave us when we believed in Christ (Acts 10:43). Then, from this incredibly divine gift of being eternally forgiven by a merciful, loving God, we must forgive others! We may not be able to reconcile with those who hurt us, but the divine commandment is for us, for our own well-being. Work hard at the hard work of forgiveness.