Betrayal is a nasty word. But that is how we feel when people we love and trust suddenly turn on us. It is tough to forgive someone we want to kick in the shins. Yet the Bible says we are to forgive even them. The Bible sure doesn’t understand, does it?
Surely God would be on my side! I’m the victim here. Didn’t David ask God to dash his enemies and their children to pieces on rocks? Can’t I pray for God to destroy my once friends now enemies?
Well, of course you can. You can ask God for anything you want. Doesn’t mean you will get it. And when you are talking with God, I have to warn you, he talks back!
And if you start quoting the Bible to Him, He might just point out that He wrote it, that the Word is Him, and throw some quotes your way.
Rather than get into a bunch of quotes about forgiveness, let’s talk about why you ought to forgive.
First, let me confess that although I am a quick forgiver now, it wasn’t always the case. I used to hold on to the pain people caused me and fantasize about exacting revenge. The more pain, the worse the revenge. Some revenge thoughts were merely a public embarrassment of the culprit, others were complete annihilation of them, their families, and even their goldfish and small dogs.
I guess I was confused between forgiveness and revenge. Revenge feels good at the moment but never really satisfied. Forgiveness is difficult at the moment but truly satisfies.
I heard a story about a guy who had a hard time forgiving. His mother in law came for a visit. As he was driving home, he reminded himself that she never came to their wedding, didn’t want them to get married, and told his wife that she could do better. It didn’t matter that all this was twenty years ago. The more he thought, the madder he got. The madder he got, the worse he drove. Before he pulled into his driveway, he had cut off three other drivers, scared a pedestrian, and received a speeding ticket. He walks in the front door looks at his mother in law and yells “I never liked you either!”
Guess what kind of evening he had! Frostbite doesn’t just happen in the winter!
Look at how one person’s unforgiveness hurt those himself, those he loved, and even innocent people who just happened to be in his way.
And that is why forgiveness is crucial to our well-being and the safety and well-being of others.
Why is it in our nature to harbor grudges and to not forgive? Our very nature is to protect ourselves. This is not a bad thing. It becomes a harmful thing when we use our protective nature to hurt others and ourselves.
You see, when I don’t forgive someone, say a spouse or a friend, I hurt myself way more than I hurt them. To be certain, I do hurt them since angry people are not nice to be around and one of our other tendencies is to withdraw affection when we are hurting. Sometimes the person doesn’t even know they hurt us and are bewildered by our sudden departure from their lives or the cold words and stares they receive.
Not forgiving hurts us because it actually holds us hostage to the pain we felt when the tragedy happened. It is just like we are still there being embarrassed or hurt or rejected all over again. Again, and again we live out the exact painful scenario that pained us. Just like the man and his mother-in-law we even rev up the intensity until we explode at those who hurt us.
What’s the solution? How to forgive when we can’t forgive?
The answer is always the same. Jesus. He shows us how to forgive and that forgiveness leads to freedom. It releases both parties from the bondage of pain, awkwardness, and distance of hurt.
Forgiving others frees us. That man in the car could have freed himself from the pain on the way home simply by uttering a short prayer. “Father, forgive her and help me forgive her.” Imagine how different his evening would be if he walked in the front door and greeted his mother in law with a hug and a warm welcome.
Forgive and avoid frostbite!