Forgiveness: It's Only About Me, Right?

We’ve all heard how important forgiveness is… for ME. Forgiving others is good for my mental and physical health, my emotional well-being and overall mood. Like you, I don’t want to carry around anger, bitterness, and resentment against others for the rest of my life; I make the choice to forgive so I can be a better me. However we don’t often hear about the difficulties in receiving forgiveness. The message is: forgiving others is really all about me. Or is it?

While I can’t deny the personal benefits received from forgiving someone else, I believe that forgiveness has far deeper implications to our minds and souls than simply feeling better. So, why should I forgive? The Biblical example of forgiveness is a gift of mercy from God to us. God does not forgive our sins simply for his benefit. He wants to enjoy us and to be with us forever. However, in order for this to be possible he needed to reconcile our sins. Clearly, God’s motives weren’t selfish in offering us forgiveness.

Also, when we forgive we reflect God’s glory. We are showing our hope in things yet-to-come and that our present actions impact our future. Now, even when we chose to forgive, it can be difficult to know how to proceed.

Mike Wilkerson in his book entitled, “Redemption: Freed by Jesus From the Idols We Worship and the Wounds We Carry” outlines five implications of choosing for forgive.

  1. We forgive a “genuine debt.” This means that when something wrong, painful, unjust or hurtful happened to us, we shouldn’t simply shrug it off or ignore it. We acknowledge it. We feel the pain. We grieve the wrong.
  2. “We should expect forgiveness to be costly.” God’s forgiveness to us cost him his son; it cost Jesus the agony of feeling abandoned by God. Believing that forgiveness is only about feeling better trivializes the price you pay to forgive someone that hurt you. You are making a difficult choice to absorb evil to prevent it from being passed on to someone else. You are choosing not to hurt others just because you have been hurt.
  3. We “forgive generously.” When God chose to forgive us for our sins, he forgave all of them, not just the ones that were less hurtful to him or easiest for him to forgive. If we are going to forgive, we need to do so from the bottom of our heart.
  4. We need to forgive before we receive an apology, or show repentance. The person that betrayed, hurt, or wounded us may never come to us and admit their wrongdoing. We can’t wait around wishing they will come to their senses. God did not wait for us to repent before providing a way back to him. He set the example of first forgiving us, even before we knew we needed to ask for forgiveness.
  5. After we forgive, “allow for appropriate consequences.” Sometime the damage is already done and natural consequences should be allowed to continue. If they broke the law, then they need to face the legal consequences. To forgive doesn’t mean that we interrupt those consequences, or even take them upon ourselves. Should the wrongdoer remain unsafe even after these consequences, then continue to keep your distance.
It’s also important to look at receiving forgiveness from others. What impedes us from accepting forgiveness? Wilkerson expresses five common hurdles:
  1. We consider ourselves a greater judge than God, or the person offering us forgiveness.
  2. We’re looking for an idol to justify our fault. Maybe the idol is our parents’ approval or our idealized self-image. We see that even when forgiveness is offered we still don’t measure up and feel remorseful but not repentant.
  3. We believe that our sin is a bigger deal to God, or the other person, than it is to us. We can’t really know how our wrongs impact another. And the fact is, God is more offended by our wrongs than we are.
  4. We haven’t confessed. It’s hard to accept forgiveness when we haven’t admitted to any wrongdoing.
  5. We want to control our own punishment thinking we are being noble. However, it’s better to be humble and accept the gift of forgiveness, feeling the joy that comes with being set free.
Take time now to see where you’re stuck. Are you having trouble forgiving someone else? It’s difficult, and I applaud your efforts on this journey. Are you having trouble receiving the forgiveness of God or another? Know that it’s a gift, so you can accept it and feel the joy.


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