Anger. It was the emotion eating up my friend Katy as she began to relay the details of her painful, ugly childhood. For weeks, she had shown up physically to my Bible Study but emotionally she was far away, hiding from something. I was only a junior in college at the time, but I could spot the bitter root of resentment with my eyes closed. Similar to my own story of pain and hurt, she began venting on the sordid details of her past and had a steady grip on her rights. I presented her with the same option I had been given just years prior – a very freeing, yet difficult choice to let go and forgive. She wanted none of it. For the next several months, I watched as she down-spiraled and walked away from God. My heart broke for her.
Unfortunately, this scenario is not all that uncommon these days. I have shared many tears sitting across the table from hurting women pouring out their broken hearts to me. Their pain is real, and I hurt for them. Believe me, I do. But there comes a point in time where all the betrayal, wrongdoing, and abuse has to prompt us toward an understanding of some good ol’ Biblical truth – the kind we often like to skim past or want for someone else’s life.
I could spot the bitter root of resentment with my eyes closed.
The reality we must all face at some point is that the Bible IS NOT a bag of trail mix. We don’t get to pick and choose the things we like and disregard the rest. So when we take a long, hard look at what the Bible says about forgiveness, it messes with our rights, our emotions, our temptation to hold on to anger, and our victim mentality. Suddenly, our if’s, and’s, and but’s are reduced to excuses in the face of a Father who forgave us in all of our own versions of betrayal and wrongdoing.
Some of you may be keenly aware of what you are capable of or what Christ saved you from in your darkest days. But some of you have not truly caught downwind of yourself and you gauge yourself according to some delusional measuring stick that this world has created. You might feel pretty good about yourself and could argue a judge out of a courtroom as to why your unforgiving heart stands justified. I have this hunch because I was the latter person. Defensive, justified, angry, and ultimately clueless about God’s version of forgiveness.
The Bible messes with our rights, our emotions, our temptations to hold on to anger, and our victim mentality.
I believe the world likes to whisper sweet nothings in our ear that tell us we don’t really have to forgive. We have a right to be angry. We have a reason to hold onto our frustration. The problem is that God’s Word doesn’t give us loopholes and exceptions. Ephesians 4:31-32 says it this way: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Did you catch that? Nowhere does it mention holding onto part of our indignation. Notice also–the real clincher–it doesn’t give a list of circumstances where this forgiveness is not required (insert your scenario here). How Christ forgave us required nothing on our part. He was the ultimate example.
I’m not naïve or unsympathetic to the idea that forgetting our past or current pain is a much more difficult task. There are many days that pass when I am consistently reminded of situations where most would permit me freedom to abandon this idea of forgiveness. But the one I believe suffers as a result are those of us unwilling to let go. Perhaps the hardest part of forgiving is fear that the person won’t receive a punishment worthy of our suffering. Or we like the control and power it gives us to hang this rage over the person’s head. Or we like to play God and think our frustration will change that person’s ways. Whatever the reason, we must face the truth that we have been forgiven beyond what we ever deserve.
Perhaps the hardest part of forgiving is fear that the person won’t receive a punishment worthy of our suffering.
Disclaimer: I realize forgiveness and trust are very different things and that’s a discussion for a different day. What I know is that resentment sentences us long before the person who has actually hurt us. How I long for each of us to free ourselves from these shackles we keep on ourselves. What we need is to take a long hard look at our heart and wrestle with the truth of God’s Word (see all references to forgiveness). The bottom line is that forgiveness is a choice – one I hope you will make.
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Image Credit: bl3w, Creative Commons