Forgiveness. All on its own, far away from us, it sounds harmless, easy, and refreshingly wonderful, doesn’t it? But when we have been deeply hurt, that changes fast. How is it possible to forgive in every circumstance?
People do it. I have read stories and heard testimonies of wives forgiving unfaithful husbands. I have heard of fathers forgiving the murderers of their children. Elisabeth Elliot continued to serve with amazing love the people who had brutally murdered her husband.
People do it.
I mean, forgiveness isn’t just saying, “I accept your apology.” It isn’t just deciding to cover up and hide your hurt. It is opening up the hurt completely and then completely letting it go. It is learning to love someone again as wholly as you did before.
It’s acting like Jesus.
So how do we do it? Sometimes it doesn’t seem possible!
We have to remember that no matter how cruel, how hurtful, how malicious, how wrong someone was and how much they hurt us, nothing that anyone does to us can compare to the pain God feels when we sin, when we deliberately shove Him out of our life and decisions and when we elevate our ways above His ways. Nothing can be as terrible as rebellion against the Holy Lord who gave us life and being. Nothing.
But God forgives us with open arms and boundless love. The Bible says, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Even when, as Christians, we continue to sin, God continues to forgive. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
God forgives unconditionally when we come to Him in repentance. He died for us even though we were still in rebellion to Him. Jesus even said about those who had beaten Him, spit on Him, and nailed Him to a cross, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34).
And God tells us to forgive each other like that, and because of that.
Ephesians 4:32 says,
“And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.”
Colossians 3:13 says,
“bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.”
That’s part of the “how.” We can forgive because we have been forgiven. We know what it is to be totally, completely, ungrudgingly forgiven by God, and so we can do that for others. What right do we have, after all, not to forgive others when God has forgiven us?
But we are still human. We don’t always think about the logic of God’s commands and the fact that we have been forgiven. It hurts too much. It’s too hard. Sometimes, it’s just that we have too much pride. But God has an answer.
Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” If we humble ourselves to the authority of a God who says that forgiveness is always better, if we leave ourselves willingly in His strength, He can give us the power to forgive.
I have never felt the weight of some of the situations I mentioned earlier or that I see on the news all the time. I have never had to forgive something that seems so huge, yet still there are days that I struggle. I still sometimes feel as though I have a right to my anger or my grudge and I hold onto it with gritted teeth.
But God’s ways are above our ways. He knows what is best for us and we can trust Him.
In a world that prides itself on its so-called strength, that calls for its inhabitants to fight for number one no matter what, God asks us to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39), go the extra mile (Matthew 5:41), and forgive as Christ has forgiven.