Not long ago, my wife and I had a meaningful conversation. We talked about bitterness. We had both recently struggled with the pang of hurt. As we talked, we acknowledged that God wanted us to forgive our offenders. But we also admitted how hard it was to do such a thing. My wife said, “You know, it is one of the hardest things to do.” Indeed, letting go is difficult. Sometimes, it can seem nearly impossible. C.S. Lewis said, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive.” I don’t know about you, but I’ve found that feelings of resentment can seem insurmountable. How can we forgive when it seems impossible? I believe some Bible truth can help. When we understand three Scriptural reasons for forgiveness, we will be more likely to forgive.
For Your Own Good
If you forgive for no other reason, do it for your own good. Sure, there are higher and loftier motives, but be assured of this — forgiveness will help you. It has been proved that harboring a grudge is detrimental to one’s health. I recently read the account of a doctor who said, “One of the most important problems that I encounter among my patients is that of bitterness, resentment, and unforgiveness. It is a major reason why people don’t heal.” Bearing a grudge will hurt you, so Scripture upholds the benefits of letting go. Jesus figuratively described the bondage of bitterness by telling a story about a man who was handed over to “jailers to be tortured” (Matthew 18:34). When you nurse a desire for revenge, you do so to your own demise. You bring all sorts of physical, emotional, and spiritual pain into your life. Learn to let go!
For the Good of Your Offender
Many people refuse to pardon, because they vainly imagine that they are hurting the one who hurt them. Such tactics rarely work. I’ve heard it said that not forgiving a person is like eating rat poison and hoping that a rat will die. Through bearing animosity, we only hurt ourselves, and we miss out on an opportunity to extend grace. Scripture teaches that personal offenses present an open door to minister to others. When we freely forgive, God can use our example to bring our offenders to repentance (Genesis 33:1-8; Proverbs 16:7 and 25:21-22; and Romans 12:20).
For the Glory of God
The Lord is a beacon of eternal forgiveness. Moses proclaimed, “The Lord — the Lord is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in faithful love and truth, maintaining faithful love to a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity, rebellion, and sin” (Exodus 34:6-7). Perhaps it could be said that we are never more like our Heavenly Father than when we are forgiving. Since we have been created in His image, it stands to reason that we should model His behavior. He forgives, so we should forgive (Colossians 3:13). When we do, His light and love shines through our lives. Unfortunately, many believers have attitudes that aren’t that much different from those belonging to unbelievers. They harbor bitterness, plot for revenge, keep score, and reel in resentment. God wants us to be different (2 Corinthians 6:17). We can make a positive impression on a Christless world by being the type of people who freely forgive!
Dr. Patrick Latham