FORGIVE YOU.” Three simple words that roll off the tongue with little or no effort. Seems easy enough.
But what if forgiving doesn’t seem possible? What if we do not want to forgive? It may be easy to say “I forgive you,” but sometimes it is nearly impossible to forgive.
No one wakes up one morning and decides, I think I will ruin my life today. On the contrary, Satan himself carefully and deceptively lays the “yellow-brick road” that leads to destruction piece by piece. Subtly the plot unfolds until the bottom drops out.
Those who avoid such vicious plans of the Enemy can count themselves blessed. Satan entices even the best of us to fall victim to his plots (see Rom. 12:3; Gal. 6:1-5). Think of King David. When Satan finds a chink in a person’s armor, he launches a full-blown assault that can leave us in a rubble of brokenness. As the smoke clears, we realize it’s going to take a miracle to recover.
Anyone who does not see forgiveness as a bona fide miracle has likely never had to walk through the process of forgiving someone of something “unforgivable.” It challenges everything within us. The miracle of forgiveness affects both the offender and the grace-giver.
Feeling slighted by a petty comment or misunderstanding is hurtful, but not usually life-changing. However, when someone knowingly does evil that causes us brokenness and deep pain, we face a crisis.
The word crisis comes from a root word that means “to decide” or “to turn.” A crisis is a turning point that changes us. It leaves us bitter or better, but either way it leaves us changed. Trying to avoid the brokenness of the soul brought on by crisis only compounds and delays the inevitable. It must be dealt with.
When our God-given emotions are damaged and pain is inflicted on us, it can be a frightening experience. Hurt comes in a variety of ways and each person deals with it differently. Perhaps there is no pain like that of betrayal. It can leave scars that last a lifetime. Ironically, the hurt can be further complicated by the issue of forgiving as we struggle with wanting to forgive, but seem unable to do it.
To forgive an offender is not only the biblical mandate (Matt. 6:12); it is also the pathway to emotional and spiritual freedom. To withhold forgiveness means throwing away any hope of escape from an emotional and spiritual prison. To truly forgive a deep hurt is one of the most difficult things we will ever have to do.
The process is compounded when forgiveness is not (or cannot) be asked for by the offender. Forgiving is the pathway out of the dark world of resentment and revenge that can hold us hostage. Most people who find themselves facing the need to forgive had this decision forced on them by someone else’s actions.
Choosing to withhold forgiveness leads to a lifetime of bitterness that comes from a poisonous desire to get even or to be vindicated. More importantly, it can separate us from intimacy with God. The Enemy carefully lays this plan because it is damaging on many levels.
Crucified With Christ
Writing on this subject is a two-edged sword for me. However—knowing what the Enemy meant for evil, God can use for good—I embraced this challenge with an open heart. When faced with a crisis of my own, I found myself deeply wounded. I wanted to forgive, but it seemed beyond my capacity to comprehend and my ability to do so. Shocked and broken, this crisis was bigger than anything I had ever faced. Anger, despair, and a wagonload of other emotions kept getting in the way of good, clear thinking.
Knowing what should be done and actually doing it can be worlds apart when the hurt is emotionally crippling. Forgiveness takes God’s help and grace. It takes learning the invaluable lesson that, in the end, Christ is the One who will bear the burden.
Forgiving can be a messy, up-one-day, down-the-next process that takes time. It takes clinging to the cross of Christ. Choosing not to forgive allows the deeds of someone else to control our life and future. This is never God’s will for us.
Forgiving is often confused with condoning. They are not the same. To forgive never constitutes agreement with wrong deeds of others. We never have to accept that wrong is right. To forgive is not to ignore the wrong nor pass it off. It means choosing to release the offender. More importantly, it means choosing to release the offender and the offence to God.
It has been many years since I found myself wanting to and needing to forgive someone I loved deeply. A series of crisis events rolled in like the tide. One blow after another took their toll and left me broken and in despair. It was not a matter of what was right for me to do and what I wanted to do—it was a matter of getting past the hurt and utter shock of an offense that made forgiving difficult.
The tragic result of living in a fallen world is that everyone gets hurt by sin. Everyone must deal with the residue of sinful behavior, and needing to forgive someone is sometimes the result. It can be complicated.
Finding the healing so desperately needed might not come in a single moment. While constant prayer was a part of my healing, I did not get a breakthrough in a prayer line. I found that God loved me enough to walk me through the necessary process. Crossing the chasm on the swinging bridge of forgiveness was a daily and sometimes hourly process. It was a painful, grieving, yet valuable journey—for me and for the offender. I had to learn to trust God at a new level. I had to trust Him enough to surrender everything in my life to Him.
I recall driving alone one evening trying to understand what had happened to my innocent world. I remember thinking, There is no way I am going to be able to get through this. Thoughts of my future were so blurred I could not see past the moment. I felt numb and hopeless. Part of my feelings had to do with my personality, but the bigger part was the pain in my broken heart. I remember crying aloud to God, “I can’t do this. I am desperate for Your help. Please tell me what to do.”
At that moment, I was startled to see myself with arms stretched out, lying on a cross. I sensed the Holy Spirit saying to me, This is the way to your healing. The pathway to freedom was to give myself away and release all hurt and pain to God. It meant to be crucified with Christ. Paul said in Colossians 3:3, “You died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (NKJV). I began to trust every hurt, every question, every tormenting thought—all of it—to Christ.
A Release and a Pardon
Nothing about forgiving makes sense to the hurting person. When Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them” while dying on the cross, it was one of His greatest miracles.
Forgiving is essentially a release. It is letting go of what we cannot control. It is accepting that only God can truly heal brokenness.
Forgiving is also a pardon. By choosing to forgive, we allow God to become both jury and judge. Instead of living the rest of our lives with accusation and seeking to pass deserved judgment, we let the all-knowing, all-powerful God handle the entire case. If we trust God with our eternal destiny, we have to be willing to trust Him with present offenses.
To forgive is a miracle. Ask anyone who has ever had to do it and anyone who has ever received it. It takes supernatural strength to release the heavy burden of hurt. I recall reading somewhere, “A forgiven man is a forgiving man.” It is the first miracle that leads to the second. To experience the grace of Christ gives cause to extend that grace to others. Being reminded that our sin was forgiven helps us remember that those who sin against us must experience the same grace given to us through Christ (see Eph. 2:1-9).
Perhaps one of the greatest tests of our own spirituality is how we handle the prodigals in our lives when they “come to themselves” (see Luke 15:17). We must remember that one of the most difficult things offenders have to do is forgive themselves.
Dr. David Seamonds said, “The two major causes of emotional problems among evangelical Christians are these: failure to understand, receive, and live out God’s unconditional grace and forgiveness; and failure to give out that unconditional love, forgiveness, and grace to other people.”
A Miracle of Love and Grace
There are those who quickly pass judgment based on what they perceive – they tell half-truths and spread gossip. I have experienced enough of that to last a lifetime. Some ugly words have been said by others who stand by me at the foot of Christ’s cross. Perhaps the miracle of grace has not quite unfolded in their lives.
Then there are those who know the quiet peace, pure joy, and settling confidence that comes from being set free from the chains of resentment as a result of grace. It is nothing less than supernatural.
Recently I was listening to the Voices of Lee sing “It Took a Miracle.” Among their brilliant harmonies, I was captured in a fresh way by the last line of the song: “It took a miracle of love and grace.” Grace is still amazing and most certainly a miracle, especially when we give it to someone else.
A miracle is “that which surpasses all known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause.” It took a miracle to restore the broken pieces of what had been shattered in my life. Looking back, I would describe my situation as humanly impossible, but not for God. I realize the Enemy did all he could to destroy my family and my future. Miraculously, today I have both. Knowing what could have and should have been is unthinkable. I have become a grace fanatic. It has touched my life and the lives of those I love. To forgive and to be forgiven are two of life’s greatest miracles.
I’ve often heard, “The problem with a ‘living sacrifice’ is it keeps crawling off the altar.” I admit I find myself crawling off the altar at times. There are moments of struggle. Sometimes in the middle of the night I can hear the tormenting voice of the past whispering in my ear. It is then I trust everything in my life to God. Offences put under the blood of Jesus should remain there. I turn it over to the Lord, rest in Him, and thank Him for miraculous forgiveness and grace.
David C. Nitz is evangelism director for the Church of God in Florida.