People can be cruel and exasperating. Friends can betray our trust and leave us hurting. We feel justified in being angry. Why should we forgive when that could put us in position of being hurt once again? We can recite the list of the offenses that have been committed against us. It may be true that the behavior that you experienced was out of line. You may be completely justified in your emotions, but living with ongoing bitterness toward someone else will only cause you further distress. Here are some good reasons to forgive:
Withholding forgiveness gives the perpetrator power over you. Do we really wish to give more power to someone who has shown themselves not to be trustworthy? Of course not, but that is exactly what we do when we allow anger toward someone to take up residence inside our headspace. When you are locked in fear and anger you give the offender control of your emotions. Rather, we can let go of our right to revenge and come to see the offender as a small and broken person. That's how they look in God's eyes!
Forgiveness does not mean forgetting. We don’t forget the wrong that was done to us when we forgive nor pretend that it was no big deal. We remember some of the pain so we are careful to never inflict it on anyone else. It is good for us to remember the abuses that harmed us so that we can avoid falling for the same pain a second time. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, but choosing to remember without its accompanying anger. Release the anger to God and allow him to enact his own justice in his own time.
Forgiving does not require reconciliation. You may say that you can’t forgive because it will make you a doormat and allow the perpetrator more opportunities to hurt you. Forgiveness and reconciliation are distinctly different things. You can forgive an abusive offender without ever setting foot in their presence again. Forgiveness is choosing not to live an anger and to allow God to be responsible for exacting his justice. It does not require that you reconcile and restore the relationship. There may be instances where forgiveness can lead to reconciliation, but there may also be times when reconciliation does not and should not occur.
A lack of forgiving imprisons you. Lewis Smedes is powerful author on the topic of forgiveness. He says that, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” Forgiveness is not so much for the other person, it is for us. Forgiveness sets us free from anger and allows us to move forward. Forgiveness frees us from the gridlock of hatred and sets us free to live a life without carrying the weight of resentment.
A lack of forgiveness is bad for your physical health. Bitterness rots us from within. We were not designed to hold onto anger and as anger dissipates into bitterness it corrodes our insides and makes us sick. Our body responds to bitterness as a constant stressor that eats away at us. Our bodies need the healing that comes with letting go of anger and allowing peace to work within us restoring us.
A lack of forgiveness is bad for our spiritual health. We are instructed in scripture to forgive as we have been forgiven. In the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples we are told to pray, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” This is what Jesus instructed us to pray. He wants us to get in the habit of forgiving others and allow judgment to be his job and not ours. Jesus says in Matthew 6:15, “But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." Jesus does not want our attitude of un-forgiveness toward others to impact our own forgiveness.
Learning to forgive can be the most healing act that we can ever learn. God will give us the strength to forgive. It will free us to live life without the burden of bitterness and free our bodies and souls to find rest in God. Ephesians 4:31-32 instructs us, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” And ultimately the best reason to forgive is because Christ Jesus in his greatest act of compassion has graciously chosen to forgive us!
Rev. Deb Koster
Rev. Deb Koster