Many times I hear people exhibit in anger wishes for death or some form of evil to someone who has hurt them or committed some heinous crime against them or their loved ones. We live in a world where everyone talks of their rights. People are quick to rush to court to enforce their rights and therefore the element of forgiveness in line with scripture requirements is laughable. We say that people should pay for what they did and when someone gets a sentence that we feel is less than we anticipated we cry wolf. It seems in this era of rights people are more vengeful and they want to draw the last blood. They vow to never forgive the person for the acts committed against them. This kind of response I have heard with both Christians and non Christians alike.
What is forgiveness?
Forgiveness is the act of letting go of the tendency to hold others responsible for our plight in this world. We live in a fallen world and we are going to experience pain and offence somehow. When we don’t forgive we give the offender the power to determine how we live. God has modeled to us how to deal with those who offend us. The need to exercise vengeance is very strong in us. No wonder the Bible emphasize many times about forgiveness. Sometimes in the desire to avenge ourselves we have caused more harm. Other times we have caused someone to completely lose hope and they have ended up committing suicide due to the condemnation. When we say we have forgiven then we need to let them loose. If we keep bringing up the issue it shows that we have not really forgiven.
All of us offend others and sin against God and none of us deserve to be forgiven of our sins or offences but we always hope that we will. In court the judge asks for mitigating factors before sentencing to help the judge exercise his power of sentencing with all factors in consideration. The offender will plead for mercy and ask for forgiveness and will have the right to appeal if he is not happy with the outcome. We relate to God in the same way. We all need forgiveness “for there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus”, Romans 3:23-24. When God says that if we do not forgive He will not forgive us, He is not saying that He forgives us because we forgive others; rather He wants us to emulate His example. He forgives us purely out of mercy and He expects us to exercise the same mercy to others in appreciation of His grace or as a reflection of what we have received from Him.
How do we forgive?
The act of Forgiveness in reality involves both our attitudes and actions. If you find it difficult to forgive someone who has hurt you, start with acts of kindness. Scriptures provides that “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” Romans 12:20-21. Christ modeled to us the act of forgiveness by how He dealt with those who were directly involved with His death. He asked the Father to “forgive them, for they do not know what they do” Luke 24:34. This He did notwithstanding that He had been beaten, spat on, abused, and humiliated by these people. His focus was not on what they had done to him but at the condition of their heart. He saw how lost they were making His sacrifice and death on the cross more worthy, for through Him the same people would find salvation.
God’s forgiveness is complete and He does not keep bringing up the issue when we commit the same act. The Psalmist writes that “as far as the East is from the West, so far has He removed our transgressions” Psalm 103:12. Considering that East and West cannot meet, God’s forgiveness is therefore complete. Once He has forgiven He separates us from the sin and does not hold it against us and there is “— now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” Romans 8:1. At times people say they have forgiven but keep on raising the same issue on and on. If you find yourself revisiting the same issue whenever you get an opportunity, then you truly have not forgiven.
I once fell out with a friend of mine, hurt by what she did and I believe I also hurt her. I let go and said that I had forgiven her. However I would talk about the event with bitterness at every opportunity and it was showing. One day another friend asked me why I would not forgive and I confidently told her I had forgiven. She asked me what would happen if my friend would appear at that time. Would I talk to her or pass her by? I had to think and the truth hit me that I could not do it because I really had not forgiven. That day I went home and wept before the Lord and confessed all that was going on. I told the Lord I could not do it alone and released every part of the matter that I was holding on to Him and I asked the Lord to help me forgive. When I left the Lord’s presence I felt so light and knew it was done. The following day I was able to call her but she would not take my calls. I continued praying for her and on her birthday I surprised her with a birthday card. She did not even think I remembered her birthday. I knew that I no longer had the problem as I had been set free to love her.
Forgiveness is never easy because we sometimes think that by forgiving we are letting the other person walk away scotch free. We also feel justified to hold on to the grudge because it gives us power over the other person. Forgiveness in reality does not mean that the person forgiven escapes consequences of their action. They may still have to pay retribution if it is required of them. They may still need to serve a prison sentence and some unfortunately may reap the consequences of their actions through their family. David was forgiven of his sin for the murder of Uriah and adultery with his wife Bathsheba, but he still had to bear the consequences of his actions which were far reaching. The child conceived as result of the adulterous relationship had to die. Later his own son Amnon raped his daughter Tamar and his own son Absalom, Tamar’s brother, avenged his sister by murdering Amnon, 2 Samuel 12:13-14, 13:12-15,28-29.
David’s action of taking what was not his and subsequently causing an innocent man to be killed was visited on his own family and he suffered the same tragedy. The legal system or one’s power may seemingly protect one, but God’s justice is assured and His justice is righteous. Writing to the Romans Paul affirms this lesson of forgiveness in relation to letting God be the avenger. He says “repay no one evil for evil. —. —do not avenge yourselves, rather give place to wrath; for it is written ‘vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” Romans 12:17- 19. We forgive others in recognition that we have also been forgiven hence the prayer “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” Mathew 6:12. When we fail to forgive, we show that we really don’t understand the mercy and grace God has favored us with and that we have not been joined to Christ.
The Benefits of forgiveness
1) Forgiveness may break the cycle of retaliation and lead to mutual reconciliation.
2) It may shame the offender to change his/her ways and make retribution.
3) Lack of forgiveness hurts you as much as it hurts the other person. By forgiving you set yourself free from the weight caused by of bitterness.
The Lord taught me this lesson through my own experience when he used me to affect someone’s life that had badly hurt me as a child. I can say that the Lord literally gave me love for this person to help me accomplish what I needed to. Love and forgiveness go hand in hand for it is because of love that Christ died for us. This person was terminally ill. When I found out of his illness, I started praying for him and got a friend to pray and fast with me. I went to visit him and shared the gospel with him. The first time he said he had done so many bad things he did not think God could forgive him. I reminded him that there was no sin that God could not forgive as long as we were willing to repent of it and turn around our life. I left but kept in touch.
The Lord had hooked me to Him in such a way that every time his condition worsened I would know of it. Then one day I felt it was time and I asked my friend to accompany me to his house. On that day he was ready and accepted Christ in his life. The following day he was admitted to hospital. I continued to visit him daily in hospital and would pray with him. One day as I was living another man in the same ward called me back and asked me to pray for him to receive Christ and I did. The person that I had been attending to died within a month of admission to hospital. I am happy that I obeyed the Lord because by so doing five lives were saved. At his funeral three other people accepted Christ as their Lord and savior. I also found complete healing of the burden of bitterness and anger that I carried against this person.
Sometimes forgiving an attack instead of revenge demonstrates strength and maturity on the part of the person giving it. Solomon demonstrated this when He became king. Adonijah, his half brother, had tried to circumvent Solomon succeeding their Father as king by trying to cause a mutiny while appointing himself king. David’s choice for successor with the Lord’s blessing was Solomon. Thus when Solomon was properly appointed king, Adonijah was scared that Solomon would revenge for what he did. When Adonijah was brought before King Solomon “he fell down before King Solomon” and Solomon said to him “go to your house,” 1Kings 1:52. King Solomon had the power to kill him to prove his power but he acted contrary to what was expected. He demonstrated his confidence and proved his power and authority by showing his enemy he had the power to forgive and to kill. Trying to prove one’s power and authority often proves one’s fear and self doubt.
I have heard people argue that they cannot forgive unless the offending person has sought forgiveness. But this is really missing the point. Forgiveness is an act of will and by placing it on the act of another, then we are saying that our power is limited. This in effect suggests that we have given our power to another. The people that Christ forgave at His death did not seek forgiveness; in fact they were unrepentant at the time. God has freely forgiven us and many still reject His grace. This however does not change the fact that God has opened the door for us to approach Him regardless of our background in sin. “God demonstrates His own love towards us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” Romans 5:8. God sent Christ to die for us not because we were good but because of His love. This should be our attitude when dealing with those who have offended us.