You go to a bank and get approved for a £100,000 loan.
When the time comes to payback, you can’t pay it. The bank says to you “You don’t need to pay us back, but you can’t bank with us anymore”.
This is what forgiveness is.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean reconciliation, forgetfulness, refusing to recognize the hurt that has been caused or justifying the wrong as right. Forgiveness doesn’t mean trusting. Forgiveness is to ‘refuse to demand payback for a wrong that has been done to you’.
This is a huge lesson in my life right now.
For a long time, I’ve struggled to understand the concept of forgiveness. I’ve asked myself questions like
“But I still feel hurt by this person, so does this mean that I haven’t forgiven them?”
“But I can’t stand being around this person, so does this mean that I haven’t forgiven them?”
These questions tortured me for a long time as I started to wonder if I could ever live up to the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:12 - “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”.
You can now imagine the bout of negative thoughts that followed:
“Does this mean that God will not forgive me because I still feel hurt by this person?”
The NIV version of the Bible says, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” and God has recently used this to explain to me what forgiveness means, hence my story about the bank loan.
To provide you with some more context, Jesus gave us a similar story in Matthew 18:21-35. A man owed the king £10,000* and had his debts forgiven, but he couldn’t forgive his fellow servant who owed him 100 pence (£1) *. When the king heard about this, he handed the man over to the jailers to be tortured.
Jesus ends this story by telling us that God will do the same to us if we can’t forgive others for sinning against us.
In Jesus’ story, the act of forgiveness shown by the king was to ‘refuse to demand payback from the man that owed him £10,000’. He had every right to demand that his money be paid back but he refused to collect.
The law of Moses demanded an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth – Leviticus 24:19-21 – but Jesus came to fulfil the law. He saved us from the law, and we are now saved by Grace. Jesus gave us something that we couldn’t give to ourselves – A complete pardon of ALL our sins - simply by believing that He is God and He died to save us from our sins, and He will come back again soon.
All sin is sin. There is no sin superior to another. If this was the case, then we would not all have the same route to the Father’s forgiveness – Believing in Jesus Christ. Perhaps, we would have different levels of believing in Jesus based on our level of sinfulness but no, we are all equal in God’s sight. He makes us righteous because none of us is righteous.
Romans 3:21-24 - “But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago.
We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.
For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.
Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight.
He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.”
You cannot live a life without offence. As long as you encounter human beings in your life, you will be offended. So you can’t protect yourself from offence, but you can control how you handle yourself when you are offended.
The most painful offences come from the people we love. I have been hurt multiple times by every single one of my family members and friends. But I have also hurt them too.
When we get offended, it’s easy to get prideful. It’s easy to forget that we are all capable of the same amount of evil and the same amount of good.
Our pride tells us not to forgive because the offender doesn’t deserve our forgiveness. But we didn’t deserve God’s forgiveness either, yet he gave us as a free gift – This is grace.
As believers, we must walk the same path that Jesus did. That’s what it means to be ‘a follower of Jesus’.
Matthew 10:24 - “A disciple is not above his teacher; A servant is not above his Lord”.
If we choose to follow Jesus, we must do as he says.
Luke 6:46 - “If I am your Lord, then why don’t you do what I say?”
What makes forgiveness so difficult?
Offence causes a break in trust. Offence makes you aware that you probably had your guard down. Offence makes us afraid. The unwillingness to forgive is from the fear of being hurt again.
But forgiveness doesn’t mean that we must reconcile with those that have hurt us.
Reconciliation requires both parties to consent to the relationship and for both parties to begin to rebuild trust. This is not always possible.
Jesus did not command us to entrust ourselves to humans. Infact, he didn’t entrust himself to humans either.
John 2:24 - “Jesus did not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people”
We are also not commanded to forget that an offence has been committed against us. This is because we are human, and our brains register painful moments.
However, we have been given the gift of self-control. This means that we can choose what to think about and what to focus on.
If I owe you money and you decide not to collect it from me, you will not continue to focus on the fact that I borrowed money from you. It doesn’t mean that you’ve forgotten it, you just don’t re-hash that memory because there is no point.
Some offences are harder to re-direct our focus from. A girl who has been raped, will struggle to move past that memory but she can choose to not seek vengeance. She will remember her pain from time to time, but she can also remember that she has decided not to seek payback. This is forgiveness. She will not trust her attacker again and she may never want to be in their presence again, but she can choose to not seek vengeance. This is forgiveness.
When we refuse to seek vengeance, we allow the God of justice to do what he pleases to do with the situation. He feels every pain that we feel (Psalm 34:18). He bottles our tears (Psalm 56:8). He counts our hair (Luke 12:7). He is very concerned about us, and he can make a good thing come out of a wrong thing.
Romans 8:28 - “All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose”
Romans 12:19 - “Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge, I will pay them back,” say the Lord.”
You can forgive and stay stuck in the place of offence. This is not a healthy way to live.
Your offender could make peace with themselves and move on from the offence while you stay stuck.
How can you forgive and move forward with your life?
Accept that you’ve been hurt – Don't deny your true feelings about the situation
Remind yourself that God is a God of justice, and He will take care of you. Jesus commanded us to “Love our enemies and pray for those who hurt us (Matthew 5:44). I used to be wary about praying for those who hurt me because I didn’t want them to be blessed. I didn’t want them to get a new car or house or job. But when you pray for someone, the first place that God will work on is their heart. The biggest justice that can be done to an offence is for God to redeem the offender and help them to turn from their ways. How do I know this? It’s exactly what He did for us when Jesus came to set us free. If we can humble ourselves to remember that we and our offenders are equal in God’s sight, then we can pray for their redemption. Let’s also note that forgiving a person doesn’t always prevent them from facing the consequences of their actions. Forgiving a bank robber may not prevent the person from going to jail for their crimes.
Choose to not seek revenge – This is the real act of forgiveness. You may have to make this decision every time you think of the offence until you no longer think of it often.
Ask God to heal the places within you that have been hurt by the offence. Do this as often as you need to. 1 Peter 5:7 - “God cares for you so turn all your worries over to him”
Take care of yourself. Be nice to yourself. This may even include blocking your offender because you don’t want to constantly be reminded of the offence. It may mean removing yourself from certain friendship circles that may create an environment for painful offences to be repeated to you. It also means not setting up all your walls and preventing everyone from coming close. If you do this, you’ll prevent kindness from entering your life as well. Take a lesson from the offence and use it to improve your character.
Forgiveness is not easy, but it is possible. We forgive because we love God and we have chosen to follow Him. We forgive because he delights our hearts, and we want to delight his heart by obeying his command to forgive others. We forgive because we are not better than our Neighbours who hurt us. We’ve been given the same amount of forgiveness from God through Jesus Christ.
This is Forgiveness – To refuse to collect what you are owed
*The currency used in the bible in Mathew 18:21-35 is talents and denarii. I have used pound sterling to provide context to readers in more familiar terms.