Forgiveness is hard. The more someone has hurt us, the more difficult and seemingly impossible forgiveness becomes. The Bible instructs us that we must forgive, forgiveness is God’s will, always possible and it heals us.
“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
– Matthew 6:14-15
Translating the above in more common English: “For if you forgive other people for their offenses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.”
What the above verse means is that if you forgive the other people who have wronged or insulted you, in turn, God will forgive you for the way you have wronged and insulted Him.
There is not a person alive who has not offended God in some way by their actions, words or thoughts. We are all sinners who have insulted God. None of us are innocent. However, it is God who judges the depth of these offenses and, ultimately, who will or will not be forgiven.
“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven;”
Our humanistic tendency is to play judge and jury. The other person is the sinner, not us. But that is not our job. Our job is to forgive and let God be the judge.
One of the hardest things for non-Christians to do is to forgive others for particularly evil offenses such as beatings, armed robberies, assaults and murder. Even to many Christians, these types of crimes seem unforgivable. A common question is: How can I forgive someone who has murdered a member of my family?
Even seemingly more impossible is forgiving someone who has killed a child. Does God expect us to forgive people such as this, too? The answer is: Yes.
“Vengeance is mine, and recompense, for the time when their foot shall slip; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and their doom comes swiftly.”
We start by forgiving others unconditionally for God’s sake, and indeed, even for our own sake. We turn over feelings of revenge and judgment to God. Vengeance is God’s job, not ours. No one will escape judgment and proper sentencing for their crimes.
“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against any of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.”
– Leviticus 19:18
If you trust in God, trust in him to do his job as we do ours. Ours is forgiveness and love our neighbor.
“Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.”
– Romans 12:19
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”
Jesus is referring to Mosaic Law found in found in Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20, and Deuteronomy 19:21. Jesus doesn’t mean that we are to see our families or others murdered or ignore defense when a life is in danger. The point here is to avoid retaliation and private revenge. The point is adopting the right mental condition, which is one of peace and forgiveness.
No matter how much we are hurt, we are not to return insult for insult. Don’t repay evil with evil. When we do that, we become evil ourselves. Trying to repay a sin, we become a sinner. Instead, we must forgive and bear the suffering for the sake of love and peace.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
–1 John 1:9
Forgiving someone who has hurt us deeply does not mean that we are forgetting everything and brushing it under the rug, making it easy for them to hurt us again.
Forgiveness is about letting the weight of the offense go. The offender’s insult upon us can continue to cause us pain if we are constantly agonizing over the offense. When we do that, they continue to hurt us because we constantly stir up those emotions, thus, the offense never ends. When we let go, it becomes their problem. They have to live with what they did – we no longer do. We have forgiven them and moved on. We have handed the problem over to God to deal with.
When we forgive others and confess our own sins, it is cleansing and transformative.
“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”