The topic of forgiveness amongst Christians is widely known. In fact, we would not be Christians if we didn’t believe in forgiveness because it is the very reason that we have been forgiven that we are saved.
A topic that I don’t think is often discussed, however, is just how hard it is for us as humans to forgive each other. I mean, how do you forgive someone who has hurt you and won’t own up to it? How do you forgive someone who has done unimaginable things to you? How do you forgive someone who doesn’t even know they’ve hurt you?
One thing is for sure: it’s not easy. To be honest, when I first thought about writing on forgiveness, I knew I wanted to write about it, but was unsure what to write. I mean, most people already know that it’s important to forgive and let go of things otherwise grudges and bitterness will begin to define our lives and let’s get real, nobody is attracted to a bitter, negative person. And I am incredibly grateful to those who have forgiven me for the many mistakes I have made as well.
But there two things I personally struggle with when it comes to forgiveness is: 1) forgiving someone who does not admit to hurting me, and 2) dealing with a situation where someone refuses to forgive me and brings it up several times how much I have hurt them.
In one of my other blogs titled “Loves and Saves, Not Judges and Hates”, I write about the topic of judgemental Christians. And while I still believe that what I said about it is true and that we have to break the stereotype of Christians being judgemental, it is hurtful when other people judge each Christian as judgemental without even knowing them. I think this sense of hurt goes right along with #1: “forgiving someone who does not admit to hurting me”. Though I know that it would be hard to forgive if someone did judge me in that way, I am reminded of what Jesus said while going through extreme suffering on his way to Calvary: “‘Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing’” (Luke 23:34). Reading this verse often shocks me. I mean, Jesus is being hated and judged by everyone. He is being tortured in unimaginable ways due to the things we have done, and yet he lays there on the cross, bleeding and calling out to God to forgive us?! Why would He do that? Why would He be tortured and why would He forgive us for being the ones to torture Him?
I don’t know. I mean, I do know because I know that He loves us and that is exactly why he did it. But what I mean is: I do not understand how big His love is for us. And I believe that His love is so vast, that I will never completely understand it until I meet Him one day.
And so when I think of forgiving someone who does not even realize they have hurt me, I think of Jesus who forgave those who did not even know what they were doing. I still struggle with forgiving someone when I have told them they have hurt me and they refuse to admit that they did, but I know that I have to constantly be aware and never take for granted the forgiveness that Jesus gave me. I am redeemed, forgiven, loved beyond anything fathomable, and for that I think I can offer at least a little forgiveness.
Sometimes it is easy to take what Jesus did for us for granted. I mean for me, growing up in the church, I was always taught that Jesus loves us because he died on the cross for us. For as long as I can remember, every Christmas I was told the true story of how He entered the world, and every Easter, I was brought to a place of humility as I reflected on the wounds that scarred His hands and feet, the punishment that was brought upon Him because of me and my selfish ways (Isaiah 53:5). Did I really understand what I was doing when I was 10? No. But there comes a time when you start to believe and accept these truths for yourself – not for your parents, or your grandparents, or for the other people in the church, but for yourself and for Jesus.
“Familiarity breeds apathy” writes Christian author Matt Papa from his book “Look and Live”. This couldn’t have been truer for me. The familiarity of church, of God’s love and what he did for me made me apathetic towards it. If I am completely honest, I was in a spot where I heard the same thing every year about Jesus, and I became bored with it. I did not want to read the Bible, I did not want to attend church, I did not want to talk about God with other people because the topic did not interest me. How sad is that? The God who loved me in a way I would never understand… and I just wasn’t interested in Him? It came to a point where I was just reading my Bible and going to church because it is what I had always done. I was what Francis Chan explains really well in his booked called “Crazy Love”, a “luke-warm Christian” (Revelation 3:16). I would go through days where I loved Jesus and days where I didn’t want anything to do with Him. I went through days where I felt so lost, I didn’t know if I was actually still a Christian. But I read my Bible, prayed, and went to church as if everything was okay. I didn’t tell anyone because in some way, I liked to fake it. I didn’t want anyone else to know I was a faker.
But then something amazing happened. God brought into my life a wonderful group of Christians that challenged me in my faith. Throughout my life, I had been challenged in my faith before and had been on fire for Jesus, but the fire had been quickly vanquished when certain trials came in my life. But these Christians challenged me to keep my flame going through everything. I took a moment to look back on my life and see how many times God had been there for me, and all of the blessings He has bestowed upon me and I became someone who invested in the God who had really been investing in me all along. As my mom has told me: “love is not just a feeling, it is a choice”. I began to make it a habit to choose to love God every day. Like any type of relationship, there are times when it is easy to love and times when it is hard. And astonishingly, it is usually throughout the hard times that the flame will shine the brightest. I have learnt, and am still learning, to not take Jesus’ loving forgiveness for granted.
As for #2: “dealing with a situation where someone refuses to forgive me and brings it up several times how much I have hurt them”, I believe what makes this so difficult for me is the fact that I often find it very hard to forgive myself. The saying “we are our own worst enemies” could not be more true for me. If I find it hard to forgive myself, I imagine how hard it is for the other person to forgive me. If the person keeps bringing up what I did, the feeling of dread continues to thrive on my soul. But I have to remember that this is not what God wants. The feeling of depression, self-hatred, self-loathing, these feelings are not of the Lord. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). If we tell God how sorry we are, if we let him know our true heart, we are forgiven. And in this, we can take comfort knowing that He loves us, and that if He loves us, we can most certainly forgive and love ourselves. I mean, He is the one who made us and formed us in the womb (Psalm 139:13). He made us who we are, so would He not want us to love who He made us to be? I think so.
As we know, it is not right for someone to keep bringing up wrong-doings once things have been sorted out, and I know I have been guilty of this. It is a part of human nature to hold grudges. It is also a part of human nature to realize you made a mistake and dislike yourself for it. But these are two things we have to refuse to take hold of us because it could go either way: holding grudges creates bitterness and disliking yourself can lead into depression. Both can lead into the slavery of our own selves. But there is freedom in letting go and forgiving others, and there is freedom in forgiving yourself. “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” says John in Chapter 8 verse 36. And He has set us free through his forgiveness and never-ending love shown to us through his death on the cross.
So, to conclude, there are two things I have to remember when struggling with forgiveness: 1) to never take God’s forgiveness offered to me through Jesus’ sacrifice for granted, and 2) to know that God forgives me and loves me, which makes the issue of an unforgiving person in my life seem minuscule in comparison to how vast God’s forgiveness is. I know that I can pray for them (“Pray for those who persecute you” – Matthew 5:44) and then leave them in God’s hands. With that, I can learn to forgive myself and embrace the person God wants me to be.
Some encouraging and inspiring verses about forgiveness to live by:
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1)
“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh ; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5:13-14 NIV).
“In Him and through faith in Him, we may approach God with freedom and confidence” (Ephesians 3:12)
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:[a] The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace” (Ephesians 1:7)
“Then he adds: ‘Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more'” (Hebrews 10:17)
“As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103: 12)
The list goes on – feel free to add more verses to this and continue to dig deep into God’s forgiveness!