Three Things to Consider When You Are Struggling to Forgive

“ . . . As the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” – Colossians 3:13

God commands Christians to be compulsive forgivers. When Peter asked Jesus how many times a repeat-offender should be pardoned, he basically said every time (Matthew 18:21-22). In fact, he went so far as to say that if we are unwilling to forgive others their trespasses, the Father will not forgive us our trespasses (Matt. 6:14)! According to Jesus, a readiness to overlook the sins committed against us always accompanies saving faith. The person who has received God’s forgiveness is required and desires to extend forgiveness to others.

But this Spirit-given desire to forgive sometimes clashes with the not-so-gracious disposition of our flesh, doesn’t it? Everything in our fallen nature wants to hold tightly to offense. When someone lies to us, slanders us, lashes out at us, devalues us, or otherwise sins against us, our natural inclination is not to extend forgiveness but to harden our hearts against the transgressor. And the more intimate our relationship with the person, the more intensely we feel the pains of their betrayal. I find it reasonably easy to forgive those with whom I’m not very close. But the more invested I am in the relationship—the more I love, value, and trust a person—the more difficult I find it to overcome the negative emotions and extend grace.

When my pained heart is reluctant to forgive, I have found it tremendously helpful to meditate on the following three realities:

  • God’s forgiveness of my sins. No matter how grievous the nature of a person’s trespass against me, the smallest of my sins against God is inconceivably more offensive. God is infinitely worthy of my loyalty and love, and I have betrayed him millions of times over. Yet even still, he looks on me not with anger or bitterness but with grace and forgiveness through his Son.
  • God’s justice. The sin committed against me either has been dealt with justly or will be dealt with justly. If the transgressor is a believer, Christ has already taken upon himself God’s wrath against that specific sin. And if the person is not a believer and remains in his or her unbelief until death, God will punish him or her personally for this sin. Whichever way it happens, all sin will be avenged. I don’t have to punish someone with my anger or bitterness. God has done or will do what is just concerning the offense.
  • My innumerable transgressions against others. I have sinned sorely against the people in my life. I have lied to friends. I have slandered brothers and sisters in Christ. I have gossiped about those who love me. My transgressions against others are innumerable. Who am I to stand in judgment over them for doing what I myself have done (and might do again in the future)? Who am I to withhold forgiveness from those who have forgiven me time and again of my sins against them?

I don’t think it is at all wrong to initially be hurt or even angry when an offense is committed against us. But it is sinful to allow these reactionary feelings to linger and produce bitterness in our hearts. Because we (believers) enjoy God’s forgiveness, know God will deal justly with all sin, and are ourselves guilty of sinning against others, we have no legitimate reason to ever withhold mercy from anyone! Whenever someone sins against us, we must remind ourselves of (at least) these three realities and participate in one of the greatest gospel experiences on this side of Heaven: forgiveness.

  • Lyle Nelson

    Analytical person that I am, the first thing I try to do when an offense is committed against me is to try to figure out why that offense was committed. Did I do something to contribute to it, so that the person was trying to get back at me? That tends to make the offense more easily forgivable in my eyes, Of course, the relative magnitude of the offenses makes a difference as well. if a person does bodily harm to me or my friends or family, when all i did was walk across his or her lawn instead of using the sidewalk, i will feel much differently about that than if the offenses were reversed.

    Whether or not the offense was intentional also makes a difference. Unintended offenses are much easier to forgive than intentional ones.

    As to how well I know the person, there again the intentionality makes a difference. If it is an unintentional offense from a close friend where there is a lot invested, I will be very likely to forgive easily. If it was an intentional offense, then it will be much more difficult, and I will likely make an effort to sit down with the person to try to get an understanding of why he did what he did, and it will be more or less easy to forgive based on what comes out of the discussion.

    If I don’t know the person who has offended me well, I may just minimize the amount of interaction with them in the future in order to “guard my heart” as the Scriptures advocate. Particularly if the offense was intentional. Probably not if the offense was unintentional. With sinful humans, mistakes happen.

    But Jesus doesn’t put any of these types of conditions on whether or not we forgive. He says quite simply that we ought to forgive and He will mete out any punishment needed. Short and so very sweet, even when it is hard to do.

  • My best friend, David Wells, committed suicide in 1984. The only source of God at the time was through my father and his wife. I made the mistake of asking them if I would get to see David again in heaven. My step-mother told me no, that he was burning in hell. I went into a depression where I nearly took my own life. Last year, the Holy Spirit told me that he had a brother and what his name is. I was able to contact him and apologize for not attending the funeral (I was very upset at the time, because I loved him (no sex involved)). His brother forgave me, even though he didn’t know me, nor was under any obligation to do so. As I started to go through grief counseling, I realized that I had not forgiven my step-mother for the awful things she said. I had been carrying around this hatred of her for more than 30 years and it had become a very heavy burden. I had to let it go. I am thankful that God only requires us to forgive, because it is His job to forget. I can’t forget, but I can forgive. I just wish I had done it when she was alive.

  • Jamez

    The scripture reference needs to be read along with: Luke 17:3-4 Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. 4 And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” What the writer left out was repentance. Repentance is the first part of forgiveness. This generation has been deceived, and many people are committing sins against others then telling the person who has had a wrong perpetrated upon them “you HAVE to forgive me” even though the offender has not repented. Scripture, and you can study this yourself, shows clearly that The Lord forgives us as we ask for the forgiveness. He doesn’t expect more of us either. He tells us to not take our own revenge, but to turn it over to Him and He will avenge. If God demands everyone to be forgiven without asking for it, then that makes His Way, by that definition, universal salvation and everyone is going to Heaven whether they repent or not. Clearly not what scripture teaches. Just do a quick search on the word “repent” and your eyes will soon be opened