Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. – Colossians 3:13
When Melinda said she wanted me to write a blog post on forgiveness, I took a deep breath.
Forgiveness has always been the toughest part of my faith walk. I’ve had some bad things happen to me at the hands of other people. And I’m a fairness girl at heart. Forgiveness is hard.
Scripture makes it clear that if we want to follow Christ, we have to learn to forgive. Paul is all over the topic, writing about it repeatedly to the early church. Clearly they struggled with the idea of it too, as the whole “eye for an eye” thing runs pretty deep.
In Ephesians 4:31-32, Paul commands the early church to “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” For me, a passage like this raises more questions than answers. If it’s important to be kind and tenderhearted, do we have to forgive the evil behaviors? If the anger and rage is directed at us, do we have to forgive that too? I’ve been like lawyer Harvey Specter on Suits when it comes to looking for loopholes. But it’s crystal clear: God commands us to forgive.
In Matthew 18, Jesus is very firm when talking about forgiveness. He tells the parable about the unforgiving debtor. If you recall, the story is about a servant who owes millions to the king. Millions is a lot to owe now, and it was even more back then. In other words, this servant owed the king everything. But the king shows mercy on the servant and forgives him his entire debt. Rather than showing his gratitude, the servant find a man who owes him a small amount of money and, instead of forgiving the man the debt as he has been forgiven, the servant has the man thrown in jail. The nerve, right? The king is furious and finds the ungrateful servant and throws him in jail. He even tortures him a bit for good measure.
It’s quite a story.
And then Jesus, sweet Jesus, says: “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.”
Whoa. How did we get pulled into this?
What Jesus is reminding us is that we have all been forgiven the biggest debt possible by our King. We mocked and denied and murdered Christ and God forgave us. Hebrews 9 describes how, under the old laws, “without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness.” But Christ’s blood bought the forgiveness of our sins –forever. And if we, who have been forgiven so much, refuse to forgive our brothers and sisters, then we are no better than the unforgiving debtor.
The prison into which we are thrown is our enslavement to bitterness, anger, and a thirst for revenge. God does not want this for us. He wants our chains to be broken so we can live in abundance and freedom, in spite of our hurts.
He wants us to forgive because He loves us.
But even knowing all this, is forgiveness easy?
For me, it felt like I was letting the bad guy off the hook. It felt like I was saying that it was OK that this bad thing was done to me. And it isn’t OK. And so I prayed for help with that as I started to write this post.
God directed me to a book meant for ministers and the publisher sent me an advanced copy. Renewed: A 40-Day Devotional for Healing from Church Hurt and for Loving Well in Ministry by Leigh Powers has been extremely helpful is walking me through the process of forgiving, even though I’m not a minister. I was pouring through the book, looking for how-to advice, when I came upon this quote: “Forgiveness is a spiritual task. It’s not something we accomplish in our own effort. We forgive by relying on God’s power, not our own.”
And there, in the Starbucks where I was reading, I felt a sense of relief wash over me. Forgiveness was not all up to me.
The author points to 2 Peter 1:3: “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. ” In other words, God would not command us to forgive and then not give us the ability to do it. I just had to trust Him.
I had to trust that I could let this go. I had to trust that He had witnessed what had happened and that it mattered to Him. I had to trust that I had never suffered in vain.
God directed me to Romans 12:19: “Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the LORD.” In others words, God had got this, woman. So move on with your beautiful life! I had to trust that too.
God has moved mountains to help me trust. I see evidence, every day, that justice is at work in the world. I see that the more I let go of the hurt, the more my life expands. And verse by verse, book by book, my heart is softening and I am better able to let go.
I learned that when I stopped trying to force forgiveness and simply ask God for help, it became easier to move forward.
I learned that forgiveness is within reach, with God’s help.
And I learned that when you are assigned a hard task – like this blog post – it might be because God has you on assignment, and His ways are better than our ways, after all.