Among the numerous principles in the Sermon on the Mount is found Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness. “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors . . . for if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:12, 14-15). In these verses is both a promise and a threat. Forgiveness is offered freely to those who forgive, and those who do not forgive fall under the judgment of God.
Two words pop into my mind – “Can’t or won’t”. You say I just can’t forgive him or do you really mean you won’t forgive him. “Forgiveness is to grant free pardon to a person or event or happening, and to cease to feel resentment, hatred or animosity against them”. The remedy comes in two cups. One for your offender and one for you to drink. The offender drinks in the freedom of your grace and forgiveness, while you must drink the marvelous grace of allowing the offense to pass and to cease to feel the hurt, the bitterness, the evil toward the one who hurt you.
This topic was one I used in my weekend seminars for nearly 30 years. I called it, “Dealing with bitterness”. Look underneath the word bitterness and you’ll generally find the term, “I just can’t forgive this”. It could be a personal judgment against another, or a violent act of nature, the result of a storm that leveled your home. Whatever the cause, forgiveness is not the answer. I used to teach it this way until one Sunday afternoon, a middle aged wman took me by the hand and said, “You’re not preaching this right!” We sat together in a private area of the building and I said, “If I am not teaching this principle right, then please help me!” Her response opened my eyes to a more accurate understanding of the word and action of forgiveness.
“Forgiveness is not the answer”, she said. “It is only the door through which one must pass”. Forgiveness does not heal, nor mollify the wound. It is not the simple snap of the fingers, or the simple solutions of hurt. Forgiveness is a door through which each one of us must pass the ALLOWS THE HEALING TO BEGIN AND THE WOUND TO BE CLOSED. Unless we pass this door, no healing can occur, no love or friendship can be restored. Forgiveness is not the power – it is the key that opens the door to the power.”
We talked a good while and her simple words changed my thinking. No more would I tolerate the snap judgment of “Forgive and forget it”, “or don’t let it bother you”, or “just put it out of your mind”.
Don’t try to ‘just forget it’ – deal with it. Bitterness is nothing more than life that has not been dealt with. We eat our daily bread and the body is revived and continues to grow and live. Our mind is somewhat different than our physical body. Things enter our mind though our eyes and ears and feelings that cannot be digested. A wise old sage one said, “There are only two great truths in living life successfully. Know what to hold on to and what to release.” Many things find no release unless you pass the door of forgiveness.
If I ripped a deep wound in my arm, it may take months for healing. The same is true with the mind. Some things can be forgiven with ease and comfort for the act was unintentional. Other wounds may take months and years to heal.
The apostle Paul writes, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ (for Christ’s sake) forgave you” (Ephesians 4:30-32).
John wrote, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:8-9). Forgive and cleanse. These key words mean to us what our forgiveness (releasing) means to others who have wrongs us. Forgiveness is cleansing and cleansing is forgiveness. The final result is simple. “And their sins and lawless deeds I will remember no more” (Hebrews 10:17). The threats of judgment are echoed in the words of Jesus when he said, “So my heavenly father also will do to each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses” (Matthew 18:35).
Walk in forgiveness is the only road to self survival.