I want to forgive like God can.
There was a time that I could forgive the man who broke into my house—whose memory kept me up at night and caused me to stiffen in fear at any noise, sparking a new sensation of caution I had not experienced before—WITHOUT hearing an apology first. I chose to forgive him because I knew I would be unable to grow and move on in life if I spent the rest of it dwelling on his sins against me. I can attest to the freeing feeling of forgiveness, because I have been there.
There was a time where I used to be joyful, optimistic, and trusting. Now, I am angry, sure of being failed by humanity, and annoyed by the mere attempts and excuses I hear from others, however valid they may be. God has been sending me words, songs, and readings as conviction, but pushed aside. I find that I am now strongly judging others for the same actions and reactions that I show.
For me, I think the hardest thing is to forgive someone who hasn't acknowledged they've done anything wrong. But, there are times when someone asks for forgiveness for a terrible deed, and we don't know if we can grant it. I often feel justified in my anger, just as I am sure others do. Just as I am sure you do, reading this now. Why shouldn’t you? You’ve been wronged too…
I've grown up with an idea that forgiveness should be natural. When someone apologizes, you don't respond with "it's okay" because it usually isn't. Instead, you forgive them. This doesn't make what they've done right, or justify their actions. It makes both of you free.
So many people hold onto the sin with every ounce of strength they have left. It starts to define them as they go throughout their day, justifying their actions or their words. To be honest, I've begun to let it define me as well.
Forgiveness has become an empty concept we speak but do not feel. I mean, how many times were we told to say “I forgive you” as children when our playmate apologized, whether we meant it or not? Forgiveness is a hard thing, I get it. Sometimes when I get mad enough, I don't want to entertain the thought of forgiving them. I want to stay mad and nurse my wounds in the tears of my pity party. I want them to know how frustrated I am, how upset I am...how hurt I am. I don't want to hand them my forgiveness on a silver platter and let it go, just because it is the right thing to do.
But lately, with all my frustrations in my personal life, in my work life, in my friends' lives, I've seen how much festering anger hurts and breaks people...how much it changes them. How much it affects the people around them. I've seen it destroy and chip away at a person's happiness until all that's left is a soul steeped in anger. I’ve seen it demolish relationships.
And...I don't think it's worth it anymore.
Don't get me wrong, there are sins that hurt us worse than being stood up for dinner, or insulting you by not offering to pay for gas, or even by being with a sole decision-maker, where you have no voice or opinion. These can be easier to forgive.
But, there are some actions cut us deeper, whether it be through physical and emotional abuse, deception, or betrayal, from friends, family, and strangers alike. These are harder to forgive, particularly if God isn’t in the heart of the other. But do any of these really justify us to be so unforgiving in the long run?
In our human minds, there are unforgivable sins. If your best friend sleeps with your spouse, that's not something you can immediately "forgive and forget". And I wouldn’t blame you if you were angry for a while. If I had a coworker deliberately ruin my chances for a promotion, I wouldn’t be too keen on moving on right away. In our human minds, there are sins that cannot just be forgiven without question or without seeing proof of remorse, sins that don't deserve a swift kiss on the cheek.
But Jesus didn't tell us to only forgive when it was easy. He didn't say "oh, just take your time and forgive when it feels right". He told us to forgive! Peter came to Jesus, unsure about how much grace he should show to those who wronged him. "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?"
Jesus responded, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times."
Notice how Peter didn't ask how many times he should forgive when repentance occurred. I think this forgiveness Jesus speaks of is not contingent on the guilty party approaching you with their tail tucked between their legs and tears flowing from their eyes in remorse. This forgiveness is not provoked in anyway, except by the one giving it.
Think of the story of Corrie Ten Boom. She watched her sister die at the hands of a guard in a Nazi camp. Years later, she saw the same man and offered her complete forgiveness, freeing both of them from a lifetime of bondage. It reminds me of the man who broke into my house. While he did not murder someone I loved, he was still a stranger, who invaded my personal life and created a fear in me that I couldn’t let go of. Yet, when I forgave him, I felt a freeing peace. How much lighter would humanity be if we all forgave, like Corrie Ten Boom, especially of the sins that carried less weight?
Since when did we start to think that we were better than God? Since when did we think that we deserved more than God?
Think about this with me for a minute: God sent his ONLY Son, Jesus Christ, to live among us, teach us, love us, correct us, only to be mocked, beaten, betrayed, and murdered on a cross. He wasn't sent just for those who believe in Jesus' name, or in God's authority, or for those who forgive without question. Jesus Christ was sent for every one of you, regardless of who you put your faith in. Jesus died for you and for me.
So why, do I throw that back in God's face and demand that people prove they are worthy of my forgiveness? How could I possibly dare to, when Jesus didn't even ask for that! While He was hanging from the cross, mangled and close to death, He cried out, "Father, forgive they, for they know not what they do."
God sent his only son to die, for you, for me, for everyone else, and He didn't demand anything from it...because he loves us. Let that sink in. I know I had to. To be honest, it still doesn’t make a single bit of sense.
This has been boggling my brain for months. This concept is so foreign to our human minds because we cannot understand the depth of this kind of love. A love that doesn’t hold my past against me…that keeps no record of wrongs. Gee, where have I heard that before? Only at every wedding I’ve ever been to…
How could I love you so much that I am willing to sacrifice everything, what other people think of me, just to forgive you? How could I bear to feel weak or like I was handing you everything you wanted on a silver platter, by granting my forgiveness? If someone wrongs me, I don’t want to give them what they want. I want to feel justified in my hurt and anger.
No, instead, we would rather sacrifice the good opinion of our family, or our friends, rather than to be judged for forgiving someone who wronged us so deeply. For some reason, those who hold opinions that consider us wrong or hypocritical for being unforgiving, are expendable to us, are not our "true friends". We've become too focused on benefiting ourselves, instead of helping others grow. Is it worth the relationship with a friend or a family member to withhold forgiveness, even if we feel they have not worked hard enough for it?
This has nagged me for the last several weeks: we are not in a position to bargain against other people's worthiness. We are not in a position to make others fight to earn our forgiveness. We should have had to fight for God's. I should still have to fight for God’s, but He gave it so freely.
So why on earth, do we hold our forgiveness over other people's heads, creating standards that no one could ever hope to measure up to, reaching for something that they can never obtain? Why are we so selfish that we would willingly burn bridges, ruin friendships, destroy our own families, all because we felt the guilty party wasn't working for their forgiveness? Why am I so selfish that I hold on to even the slightest transgressions now, allowing myself to burn with anger at the most ridiculous of things because I feel I have earned the right?
My relationship with others should be far more important than my pride. Matthew 6:14-15 says, "For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, our Father will not forgive your sins." I don't know about you, but I do not want to live my life on God's bad side.
I cannot imagine the pain Jesus experienced, both spiritually and physically. I cannot picture the agony the Father felt at watching His Son perish at the hands of the people He had so lovingly created. But I am so thankful that He did. Without Jesus' sacrifice, I would have no salvation, no hope, no purpose. I would be so lost.
Yet, how am I repaying Him, living in a spirit of anger?
If God determined our salvation by deciding who was the “most worthy” based on their actions and how they treated others, can I honestly say He would pick me as I am? I don't think I can. I hate the person I have become in the last few months, always negative and angry, overwhelmed and stressed out by situations I could have more control over if I would honestly would let go of my pride.
Since when did we think, that we were more important than God? Since when did we decide we deserved more out of people than God required? I know there are some unspeakable sins. I know there are hurts, scandals, and abuses that cut us down and seem impossible to forgive. Why would we want to? But they are not impossible…because God was able to forgive us for every time we pushed Him aside, for the death of His Son, for every time we’ve cursed His name.
I want to be able to forgive like that.
God forgives us and still loves us, even when we push Him aside and hold onto our control. I know I am guilty of this on a daily basis. But, I do not deserve more from others than God required of me. I know, that salvation comes from repenting and acknowledging Christ as the divine intercessor that He is, but it is not determined by how hard we prove we are sorry. I am so thankful that I am loved by a God who does not hold my past against me. I only hope I can do the same for others.