How do you feel about forgiving someone who has hurt you?
Throughout our life, I’m sure there are countless times when we felt wronged or hurt by others. The idea of forgiving those people would definitely not come naturally; not even in our wildest imagination. Our first instinct would be to reject the idea completely with countless excuses up our sleeves to justify our reservation.
Just last year, I had the experience of such a situation. I was caught in a friendship where my trust and sincerity were taken advantage of. Unfortunately, it was not a mere misunderstanding but purely an intentional act of lying which made me feel hurt and frustrated. I was angry and annoyed with that person, and avoided her for the rest of the year.
Deep down I knew that I should have forgiven her. I prayed the Lord’s Prayer and kept asking God to forgive my sin ‘as I have forgiven those who have sinned against me’ But it just felt really hard to do! For the rest of the year, I struggled with the feelings of ‘I know what I should do’ but ‘I can’t do it yet' as the incident was so fresh to me.
It was only on the very first sermon of this year, I learnt about how forgiveness should actually work, giving me the courage to finally take the first step to forgive that friend.
In his sermon about ‘The Four Directions of Our Sight’, Rev. Agus talked about looking backwards into our past. He mentioned about the hate and unforgiveness that we might have in our hearts towards the people who have previously hurt us. He told the congregation that we should forgive the people who had sinned against us. However, he also added that forgiving others doesn’t mean that we have to forget about what they did and return to our original state as if nothing had happened. In this area, we must pray and ask for God’s wisdom, to enable us to forgive and to move on by putting the relationship into the right state.
I felt relieved after hearing that sermon which helped me to learn the truth. Initially, I always thought that when I forgave her, I had to forget the incident altogether and return to former terms with my friend. In my head that was the whole idea of forgiveness, which was totally wrong. This belief was apparently one of many misconceptions of the world about forgiveness, which often makes us reluctant to forgive others.
Learning the truth
Not long ago, my mum shared with me the lesson she learnt from her daily devotion taken from ‘The Quiet Place’ book by Nancy DeMoss Welgemuth. In her book, Nancy summarised at least four misconceptions about forgiveness and revealed to the reader the truth found in the Bible.
- Forgiveness is not a feeling. It's a choice.
“But forgiveness cannot be proven by our feelings, any more than it can be motivated or empowered by them. Forgiveness is a choice. And feelings often aren’t. So it’s quite possible to forgive someone the right way - God’s way - and still have thoughts flash across your mind that seem to contradict the decision you made.” - Wolgemuth, Nancy DeMoss. The Quiet Place (p. 255)
From this very first point, I learnt that we forgive because we deliberately and purposely choose to forgive someone the right way - God’s way. It should not be because of our feelings, whether we feel like forgiving or not.
Once we decide to forgive, it does not mean we are free from the pain forever. We might sometimes feel the pang when old feelings turn up and we need to take this as an opportunity to once again reaffirm our forgiveness to others.
- Forgiving is not forgetting.
“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.” -Ephesians 1:7
I’ve heard the phrase ‘forgive and forget’ so many times in my life, and without realising, this was what clouded my ability to forgive my friend. Incapable of forgetting, made me reluctant to forgive her, even though I knew it was the right thing to do.
Maybe many of you are also like me, thinking that you won’t be able to forgive those who have hurt you as you cannot forget and get rid of the pain inflicted by them yet. But this is not true. Forgiving does not mean forgetting. Even the Bible never said that God forgets our sins, rather He chose not to remember them. “Choosing not to remember is not the same as forgetting.”
“ For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”- Jeremiah 31:34b
Because of the finished work of Christ on the cross, God will not charge us for the debt of sin. He will not hold our sin against us and hold us liable against them.
- Forgiveness is not a work in progress. It’s a work in practice.
Many of us may be ‘procrastinating’ on forgiving others, dragging it out longer into a lengthy period of ‘healing’ and ‘self-consolation’. In my experience, I was also guilty of this by waiting and believing that ‘all wounds would heal with time’.
But forgiveness does not work that way. By God’s grace, it should be a choice that we make now and then living out the implications of that choice into the future. Forgiveness works at a specific point in time that you decisively choose to forgive a person. Nancy DeMoss Welgemuth describes forgiveness as a plant that has to be planted first to bear fruit. We should first plant the seed of forgiveness before expecting the fruits of healing and joy to come, and not the other way around.
- Forgiveness is not a quick fix nor a one-time event. It is an ongoing way of life.
‘Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”’- Matthew 18:21-22 NIV
Too many times as teens, we want a quick and easy result with minimal effort required. Unfortunately, forgiveness doesn’t exist as a quick fix nor a one-time event.
Maybe we expect that once we choose to forgive our offenders, they will realise their mistake and repent, and our relationship will be mended. But, we live in a fallen world. Not all offenders are going to apologise for their actions, and your relationship with them could be broken forever.
Another reality is that we will keep having to face such situations as long as we still live in this world. Forgiving one person now won’t change that fact. We must brace ourselves with the need to do it again and again as an ongoing way of our life.
Learning to obey
“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” - Ephesians 4:31-32
Forgiving others and living out the implication of this choice is certainly not easy.
To tell you the truth, after I decided to forgive my friend, I was still hoping not to end up in any of her classes this year. To my dismay, the exact opposite happened. She turned out to be my classmate for all my subjects. We even ended up in the same group work project once.
I confess that I was frustrated at the beginning. I really wasn’t ready to follow through with my choice daily.
However, I slowly understand God’s wisdom for putting me in a position where I couldn’t ‘escape’ forcing me to peer deeper into His words and presenting me with the opportunity to learn more.
Charles Spurgeon, in his sermon on “Forgiveness Made Easy”, teaches us to forgive each other “for Christ’s sake”.
We surely know that God hates sin. Sin opposes the primary person and characteristics of God; His holiness. The holiness of God is disgusted by sin’s unholiness. Yet God decided to forgive us, who are such sinful and impure human beings for Christ sake, for the sake of the great atonement which Christ has offered.
How big could others’ wrongdoing be compared to our sin towards God? As Spurgeon put it, “What we owe to God is infinite, but what our fellow creature owes to us is a very small sum”.
Thus, when it feels hard for us to forgive, remember that God has forgiven us for Christ’s sake. The Son of God died on the cross bearing all the consequences of our sin against the Father so that we may be reconciled with Him.
God himself has set ahead of us the example, before commanding us to do the same. We would truly be wicked creatures if we demanded repayment from those who have done us wrong, even after receiving God’s forgiveness for our incomparable sins.
Spurgeon also reminded us that forgiveness is a mutual operation - forgiving each other (not just others), because surely enough we are also sinned against others and need to ask for their forgiveness.
So brothers and sisters, can’t you forgive one another for Christ’s sake?
In the uncertain days ahead where the Covid outbreak is still rampant, we cannot predict what will happen to us, to our families and friends. If any of them have wronged us (or we have wronged them), be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you when He still gives us the chance.