It is hard to forgive someone who has hurt us badly. Often times it is someone very close to us which is why the hurt is so severe. One of the lessons I have learned over the years in ministry is that we are more likely to be hurt by someone inside the Christian family than from the outside.

The question always is, should I forgive those who have wronged me - especially when they have not acknowledged the wrong and then, how do I do it when the pain is so severe?

I believe there are always three reasons to forgive.

First, Jesus tells me to. He does not tell me to forget, it will not happen. He does not tell me that the pain will disappear: it may fade with time but may never fully depart. He does not tell me that everything will be OK: it may not be. He does not say it will be easy: sometimes we have to forgive over and over and over as the pain and anger and betrayal refuse to go away. What He does say is to forgive (Matthew 18:21-22). This is one command that is a hard command. It is not fair or just or a natural thing to do. It is one of the hard sayings of Christ.

Is this not why holocaust survivor Corrie Ten Boom forgave those who committed the most heinous crimes against her? Her father and her sister Bessie died at the hands of the Nazi's and she endured the infamous Ravensbruck prison camp.

Corrie recounts the day she forgave her SS guard:

“It was at a church service in Munich that I saw him, the former SS man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbruck. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there – the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie’s pain blanched face.

He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. “How grateful I am for your message Fräulein”, he said “To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!” His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had preached so often to the people in Bloemendaal the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side. Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him.

I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your Forgiveness. As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.

And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.”

Second, Jesus forgave me. It is the parable of the unmerciful servant, Matthew 18:21-35. It is also a hard saying: "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart." We have no standing before God when we say, "I will not forgive you for what you did to me" because Jesus forgave us when we did not deserve it. Our offenders may not have deserve our forgiveness - but we did not deserve an even greater forgiveness from Jesus. The truth is that none of us deserve forgiveness from God or from one another. He gave it freely and so we are to give it freely. From one undeserving recipient of grace to another undeserving in need of grace.

Third, bitterness is bondage while forgiveness is freedom. The bitterness that comes from holding on to grievances no matter how large or small is a prison. Here is the irony: when we are wronged the pain can be great but when we refuse to forgive the pain is greater and longer and even more bitter because we now must live with it daily. And this pain is self inflicted. The only way out of our own prison, the injury done to us by others and the injury done to ourselves is to forgive. It is in that act, which may need to be repeated over and over that our own freedom is secured. I refuse to be imprisoned by offenses done to me by others. In forgiveness I find freedom.

  • Oct 26, 2012
  • Category: News
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