For a follower of Jesus, forgiving others becomes a way of life. God’s word about this is clear, I am to “forgive just as God in Christ has forgiven me” (Ephesians 4:32). If someone is repentant and asks us to forgive them, Jesus would have us do it (Like 17:3-4). Mostly however, we must learn to forgive others in our heart, with sincerity, without them asking. That does not mean forgiveness is easy; it can be very difficult, especially if the wrong done to us is deeply hurtful and we are seething with angry feelings.
Our sense of justice makes forgiveness difficult. It’s not right to let wrongdoers get away with what they did, or continue doing.
Our sense of justice makes forgiveness difficult. It’s not right to let wrongdoers get away with what they did, or continue doing. Because of the plea for justice, it seems unnatural to forgive, for the wrongdoer must pay and suffer the consequences of their actions. Before we consider the issue of justice, let’s describe a way to forgive others?
Forgiveness begins by identifying how I honestly feel toward the person who wronged me, and by naming what they did that hurt or made me angry. I then go to God and express my feelings. I tell God what that person did to me and admit to God that I am angry, or whatever. When I am ready to forgive, I form a sentence in which I name the person, or persons who wronged me, and I name the specific thing they did that hurt or angered me. Then, I sincerely tell God I forgive them; for example, “God, I forgive John Doe for breaking into my house and stealing my television.”
If I do forgive, and truly mean it, and later my resentful or angry feelings come back, I remind God, and myself, that I have forgiven them. I do not let what happened, and my angry feelings, make me think otherwise. I counter those thoughts and feelings with the truth that I have forgiven, and I refuse to bring it up again. If I do that, the anger should eventually dissipate.
Obviously, the degree of wrong done to me will determine the difficulty of forgiving. It may be easier to forgive the person who cut in front of me in the grocery line, than to forgive someone who killed my child in a school shooting.
Obviously, the degree of wrong done to me will determine the difficulty of forgiving. It may be easier to forgive the person who cut in front of me in the grocery line, than to forgive someone who killed my child in a school shooting. It may become easier to forgive a family member who refuses to help me with a chore, than a spouse who divorces me, taking away half my possessions and breaking up our family. If I have difficulty forgiving others, what can help me become ready and willing to forgive?
First, understand that forgiveness does not mean letting wrongdoers go free with no consequences. Since God says, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay” (Romans 12:19), we can turn those who wrong us over to God. When I talk to God about it, I can say something like this, “Lord, you judge them, and if they are deserving of punishment, I will let you handle it.” When I let go of my drive to punish, I can forgive instead of wanting to pay back evil for evil (Romans 12:17).
Second, I can pursue justice as a separate act from forgiveness. Having turned the wrongdoer over to God, and having forgiven them, frees me to pursue justice with a right motive. If the law demands justice, we can pursue it with clearer thinking, and even a loving spirit. If it is not a matter requiring legal involvement, we can take the approach of confronting the other person about their behavior and working toward a solution. We can let the other know that change needs to happen if we are to enjoy a harmonious relationship, or any kind of relationship.
A third way to help us achieve a willingness to forgive is to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes and try to understand where they are coming from. What unfortunate circumstances in his or her past have influenced them to become the person they are today? If we can give them some leeway, some legitimate reason for their behavior, and feel a bit of empathy toward them, it helps us to forgive.
Fourth, we can decide to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:20-21). Jesus said to love our enemies. One simple thing we can do to love them is to pray that God will help them to find the way to a good life (Romans 12:14). Being able to do something good for a person who wronged us can also be a way of proving to ourselves that we have truly forgiven them.
Fifth, if you struggle to forgive, check to see if in any way you are a part of the problem. Let the other person know, and ask their forgiveness for your part. Include self-examination of what may be hindering you from forgiving, things such as pride. It helps to forgive others if we are aware that we too are imperfect people.
Sixth, review the ways you have wronged God. Have you experienced deep sorrow and repentance for specific ways you have offended and disobeyed him? Have you asked and received forgiveness from God? If we have experienced God’s undeserved forgiveness and peace, God expects us to give the same love and mercy to others (Matthew 18:23-35).
Seventh, know that forgiveness will cost us, just as it did Jesus. To forgive often leaves us to suffer injustices. When I forgave persons who vandalized my property, never knowing who did it, it cost me having to pay for the damages and repairs. I must be willing to accept the cost.
Finally, realize the benefit of forgiving others, even for little everyday things that irritate us. Forgiving goes a long way toward restoring relationships.
Finally, realize the benefit of forgiving others, even for little everyday things that irritate us. Forgiving goes a long way toward restoring relationships. Forgiveness also eliminates the build-up of inner stress and resentments that causes eruptions of anger, broken relationships, or the slow erosion of our mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health. Forgiveness overcomes a devastating past and makes life livable again.