When Jesus died on the cross, in no way did his forgiveness minimize what we did. He saw our sins, every one of them, and still chose to be the sacrifice that satisfied God's heart. God hates sin. We can hate what was done to us but love the person anyway. Who they are matters more than what they did.
Forgiveness Does Not Give the Offender Power
While we may think that forgiving someone gives them power, the opposite is true. We become empowered when we decide to forgive someone who has hurt us. Our unwillingness or inability to forgive causes us to be stuck because of the resentment that seeps into us, making us hold them hostage. The problem is that we too are in that cell. While we try to convince ourselves that they intended to hurt us, the truth may be that they are not even aware of their actions and how they affected us. And even if they did intentionally hurt us, we can still forgive them.
Eventually we may realize that our past hurts have caused us to self-protect. When we try to protect ourselves, we prevent ourselves from seeing God as the all-sufficient one. It's God's job to protect us: he is our shepherd, our leader, our guide. When I protect myself, I leave him out.
Forgiveness Is Possible Even When the Offense is Continual
In Luke 6:29, Jesus says, "If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them." This is not possible without God giving us the ability to do it.
Maybe if we realized that God has something greater to show us in the situation we would not be so resistant. We might even see that forgiveness is possible when the pain is continual. And how many times should we forgive? Peter asked this question in Matthew 18, and Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times" (vv. 21-22).
We're afraid that if we continue to forgive, we are giving the person permission to hurt us again, much like an inflatable punching toy that keeps bouncing back when hit. Repeat offenders complicate things. Sometimes they hurt us and lightly apologize, as if it's no big deal. Their apologies have little worth. Or the offender may act as if nothing has happened.
Looking at why we hold grudges shows us something about what's going on inside of us. Once when I was hurt, I told the Lord, "Someone needs to pay." And in the quiet of my soul, I heard him respond, "I did."
Forgiving people means you no longer hold the offense against them. Their slate is wiped clean. No longer will you hold it to their account or keep talking about it.
Will you still hurt? You might, but regardless, you need to stop holding on to those grudges for the health of your soul and your relationships.
Open Your Hand
I wrote this poem to remind me to not hold grudges. Perhaps it will help you too.
What is that you are holding in your hand,
in your fist that is closed ever tight?
What is that you are purposely keeping from me,
for you feel that you have that right?
Don't you know as you grow in your walk with me,
I can see even things that you hide?
Oh, if you only knew what's in store for you,
You would open your hand so wide.
Anne Peterson is a poet, speaker, and freelance author. If she isn't writing she's having fun with grandsons, Jude and Charlie. Visit Anne at Facebook or at annepeterson.com, where you can read her blog and listen to her poetry. Her book, Real Love: Guaranteed to Last, is available here.
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