The Freedom of Forgiveness
Why is asking for forgiveness difficult?
It is humbling to admit you are wrong and to ask for forgiveness. But it’s a key action to defeating your pride. We may admit we are wrong, but often say, “If I was wrong, I’m sorry.” We often deploy what might be called the “If Maneuver” - using that tiny word if to give ourselves an out, to avoid admitting our responsibility.
A husband and father of several boys boasted once with these words: “You know, I’ve been married 24 years, and I’ve never once apologized to my wife for anything I’ve done wrong. Every time we get into a squabble or any kind of disagreement, I just tell my wife, ‘I’m sorry you’re mad at me.’ I don’t admit anything. I just tell her it’s too bad she had to get so mad. And all these years she’s never realized that I have never once apologized.
What a pitifully selfish attitude. It will never bring unity to a relationship where love should abound. That man was missing a blessing. He went away quite sure he was a very clever fellow. He did not realize that he was hurting not only his wife, but also himself and his children. Just think of what he was modeling for his boys.
Granting forgiveness is difficult as well.
As difficult as it is to ask for forgiveness, it’s no walk in the park to grant forgiveness when you have been wronged.
We may need to be a member of the Seventy Times Seven Club. This club began when Peter asked Jesus how many times we must forgive one another. Peter wondered if seven times would be enough. Christ answered, “No - seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:21-22). In other words, forgive an infinite number of times, not just when you feel like it.
You can tell whether you have forgiven someone by asking yourself one question: Have I given up my desire to punish this person? When you lay aside that desire and no longer seek revenge, you free the person and yourself from the bonds of your anger.
Forgiveness cannot be conditional. Once you forgive, that is it. Feelings may still be raw, and if someone has hurt you, you can choose to forgive immediately, but still be processing feelings of disappointment or rejection. Consider the reality that forgiveness is a choice, an act of the will - not an emotion. It may take a while for your feelings to catch up with your will. But you will needs to respond to the scriptural mandate to forgive the one who has offended you.
Does the quality of the offense matter?
There is no question some hurts, such as adulterous affairs or a spouse’s addiction to pornography, are extremely difficult to forgive and get over. There may always be some pain and distrust in the person’s heart that has been so deeply offended. But, we are still commanded by God to move beyond the circumstances and forgive just as he would (Hebrews 8:12).
Repentance and restitution will be necessary toward reconciliation. Boundaries may need to be erected in the relationship to prevent the sinful behavior from happening again. Intervention by a wise Christian may be essential to the healing between the offended and the offender. Above all things, no one should be allowed to continue perpetrating serious harm on another person.
Forgiveness must be the rule. Anyone who says, “I cannot forgive you” really means “I choose not to forgive you.” As Christians, we do not have the option of becoming embittered against another person. The result of obeying God and forgiving is not bondage, but freedom. Act willfully. Forgive liberally. Remember how much and how often God has forgiven you through Christ.