There are many difficult things that each of us will face in our lives. Burying a loved one. Loss of job. Broken relationship with someone. Bankruptcy. Betrayal. Persecution. Bullying. Sickness. Just getting through another day. And we can wonder why these difficult things happen to us.
These difficult circumstances that we face will stretch aspects of our character – demanding of us to show unconditional love, to trust people again and continue to trust that God really knows what He’s doing, to be patient with annoying and difficult people, and to persevere when everything and everyone around us says we should quit.
Yet the most difficult thing we will ever have to do – and we do have to do it – is to forgive someone, and to forgive them in the same way and to the same measure that God forgives us. Now that’s hard. But He enables us to do it in His strength, and expects us to put forgiveness into effect, no matter what.
In Matthew 18:21-35, Peter asked Jesus how many times was he to forgive someone who hurt him, and Jesus repled, “seventy times seven”. The parable indicates that, when someone begs for forgiveness and mercy, we are to give unconditional forgiveness. Jesus also taught that, if we refused to forgive others, that the Father would not forgive us.
Such a difficult teaching… and even if we can intellectually get our heads around it, putting it into practice is an entirely different matter.
But it is so important to put it into practice – beyond the spiritual consequences that Jesus warned about, there is a very pragmatic result: until you and I forgive – not just intellectually but practically and tangibly live it out – you and I will be stuck in a holding pattern, and God will be unable to move you forward until you do. And the forgiveness in you and me has to be real and unconditional with visible inward and outward evidence.
It is most difficult when the object of your unforgiveness / forgiveness is someone of whom you have regular reminders, or with whom you have regular contact – especially when they repeatedly re-offend.
I have been in this situation many times…
As a side note – If you are in a dangerous situation, physically or mentally, by all means remove yourself from it for a time. But this practical requirement does not remove the need and instruction that you and I MUST forgive.
The need and instruction to forgive – even then – is unconditional.
To put it in terms which may offend our Canadian, post-modern, secular sensibilities – unforgiveness is a SIN. No mitigating circumstances are given in scripture where it is deemed “okay” to live and breathe another day in unforgiveness.
Yet we all try to place conditions or escape clauses on the commandment that we forgive those who hurt us and sin against us. Here are a few examples of the excuses we make:
a) conditional forgiveness – I will forgive you, but first… (add your own list). We add pre and post-conditions to our so-called forgiveness, but at the first sign of behaviour we don’t like, we bring up the catalog of offences.
It’s time to ditch the catalog and ditch the conditions.
b) payback – payback is closely related to conditional forgiveness, and may sound something like, “I’m going to make you suffer for a while before I forgive you”, or “I’ll let you know when you’re forgiven”. Our goal in this is punishment, not forgiveness.
c) mitigating circumstances – we attempt to release ourselves from the need to forgive by saying to ourselves, and others, “you don’t know what they did. If you knew, then you’d understand that I cannot forgive them.” I tried this one on what is now a very memorable occasion for me, and I complained to God about how badly someone had treated me. God then reminded me that He DID know and He showed me an image of the crucifixion and the forgiveness He showed. Then He said to me “Now go and do the same”. Ouch.
d) I’ve forgiven but not forgotten – how many times have you heard or said this? This is true in human understanding, but this is not the measure to which God forgives. He says in His Word “I will remember their sins no more“… deliberately choosing to forget. We cannot do this in our own strength, but in His… and while we will still remember the details of the offense, we will remember the details without re-opening the wound and being offended all over again. He will enable us to release and forget the offense.
e) they haven’t asked for forgiveness – sometimes we take the Matthew 18 scripture above out of context and say, “Well I would forgive but they need to ask me first”. There are enough other references to unforgiveness in scripture to indicate that unforgiveness itself is a SIN, and that to hold onto unforgiveness, for whatever reason, puts YOU and I into jeopardy and a position of bondage, sickness, bitterness, etc. In unconditional forgiveness, you and I forgive even before someone asks, and even if they never do ask.
In unconditional forgiveness lies personal freedom.
f) running away from the problem – we can fool ourselves that, if we run away from the person or circumstance that caused the offense – or who we haven’t forgiven – then it will go away and you and I will be alright.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Whether it is just the peculiarities of life circumstances, or whether God Himself has a direct hand in it, we will encounter again in someone else or in a different circumstance the same issue we ran away from. It may manifest differently, but we carry the problem with us because it is you and I that have not forgiven. And it is time – today – to release and forgive that He might begin the healing process in you. That way lies freedom.
g) time heals everything – NOT. Time, by itself, heals nothing. Time allows scabs to grow over old wounds, but we pick at them and bleed again. Time allows experiences to go below the surface, but under similar circumstance or under pressure, they come back to the surface. We need to walk continually in forgiveness and stop walking and living and breathing as the walking wounded. In forgiveness is freedom and healing, in time.
There are other excuses we make – but all excuses are based only upon unforgiveness – because we find it hard to forgive, or we don’t want to forgive, or we foolishly think that it’s OK with God, given the details of my circumstance, to not forgive.
But there are no mitigating circumstances. NONE.
Think of the cross and the forgiveness it implies, even to us who didn’t deserve it, who mock it, who didn’t ask for it, who never knew we needed it… Think of the freedom that resulted.
God’s love, and the measure of His forgiveness that He gives to us, and then desires for us to go and do likewise, is shown in Hosea 3, where Hosea is told to go and love his adulterous wife again who has repeatedly been unfaithful and caused repeated heartache and offense… just as God says He pursues and loves and forgives His people who continually sin against Him. He forgives even though forgiveness is undeserved.
Forgiveness is a choice we MUST make, IF we are to be free and move forward.
It is the most difficult thing you and I will ever have to do – but we are commanded to do it, no matter what. He will give us the extra-ordinary strength to do it, and walk it out. That way lies freedom and He will lead us into healing and restoration.
Who do you need to forgive today? What catalog of offenses are you carrying forward in bondage? Begin the forgiveness process today – and let Him set you free.