Many reasons to be unforgiving
What’s in “it” for me? A question that I have wrestled with during many seasons of my life. Sometimes it is an actual thought that becomes expressed through my words or actions, and sometimes it stays as a subconscious thought that I didn’t even know I had. But whether overt or concealed, at just that right moment, some outside influence will come and rub up against this thought, affirming my own sinful desires to seek myself instead of Jesus.
Throughout my life, I’ve found many reasons to be unforgiving. In certain seasons of my life, my unforgiveness even served me well. It was a powerful coping mechanism that gave me courage to run away from very real trauma and actual danger. But once that seed of unforgiveness was planted, it grew deep and wide and began to cover more areas than I had originally invited it into. It was only a matter of time before that unforgiving seed was out of control in my life, completely sucking all of my joy and preventing me from real healing, lasting hope, or actual life change.
It was during these years that very well-intentioned friends could see my pain and offered me their best advice. I was offered a new choice, and it seemed profitable. The offenders of my past were, from a worldly perspective, unforgivable, and I was told that I didn’t have to forgive them for them, but I could forgive them for myself. This seemed like a really good idea, and it affirmed my motive of self preservation. It was a “Win-Win situation” as far as I could tell. If I forgive them, then I reap the benefit. But the hardest part of this was that it seemed to work (well, for a little while, anyways).
As I began to release the anger from the abuse that had been inflicted upon me, I did begin to feel “better.” I had found this almost magical formula that took control away from my abusers and placed it firmly in my own hand. I could be free if I could muster up forgiveness. There were even plenty of Christian books from reputable ministries that spurred me on. “Find forgiveness to set yourself free.” But as with anything, whatever we sow, we will reap. So as I planted seeds of self, all I would eventually harvest was myself.
According to King Solomon in Proverbs 14:12 “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end leads to death.” and the truth is, forgiving someone for myself did not produce life at all, and it did not represent the gospel of Jesus Christ, God Crucified (which, by the way, is the one and only way into abundant, spirit-filled life.)
It doesn't matter what they did
You see, by definition, forgiveness is the paying for or cancelling of a debt. It is a costly and precious gift for someone else, especially in the case when they just don’t deserve it. Over the years as I’ve encountered Jesus and His true love that really does cast out Fear, I have come to see and know this to be true. . . that forgiveness is not about how I feel at all, but rather an act of trust and obedience in my Good Father, who loves me. When it comes down to the heart of it, very simply put, it just doesn’t matter what the other person did, it matters what Jesus did.
As I write this, I am recalled to 1 Corinthians 1, beginning at verse 18. In this section of scripture, we are reminded by Paul that the cross in itself is foolish. It was foolish for God to give up His throne to come and walk the earth as a man. It was foolish for Him to befriend a bunch of sinners (one of whom would ultimately betray Him, all of which would abandon Him when He most needed a friend). It was foolish for Him to die a death filled with shame and humiliation as a criminal, and as He hung there on that cross, it was foolish for Him to ask forgiveness for the entire world, most of whom would never find His Truth.
But that is the point, isn’t it? That God chose what was foolish to bring to shame the wisdom of the world. And why did He do it? Did He hang on the cross for Himself alone? The point of His debt-cancelling love and sacrifice was you; it was me; He went to the cross for us. He forgave me, because it benefited me the most. And Romans 5:8 reminds us that He did all of this WHILE I was still a sinner.
Isn’t this the same message that we all first heard? That we didn’t have to get our “stuff” cleaned up to approach God, but that while we were still messed up and broken, He paid our debt anyway? And isn’t it this same truth that we are called to freely give? Forgiveness and reconciliation for the benefit of the trespasser; this is the work of the Gospel.
In the presence of our enemies
And so this leads me to my final thought and invitation. As God’s family we are welcomed to the table to partake in a family meal with Jesus.(See Psalm 23) The table has been placed in a public forum, to be eaten directly in the presence of our enemies, those who have hurt us in the worst ways, for both of our benefits. And as we draw close to Him and receive His beautiful drink offering of blood poured out (forgiveness of sin), He will anoint our heads with oil (fill us with His Holy Spirit) so that we will have victory. The work of true forgiveness is humbling and heavy and void of self. It is hard work, but we are not alone in it. Jesus, is our friend, Holy Spirit, our Comforter, The Father, Our Protector. He will not betray or abandon us in the hardest moments of bearing our own crosses. He will meet us, defend us, fill us with power, and then we will dwell in His house forever.
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