Forgiveness—it is something we all know we need. When God forgives us, He removes our sins as far as the east is from the west—never to be remembered against us again (Psalm 102:12). Jesus helps us understand that if we really grasped the depth of God’s forgiveness, we would forgive others (Matthew 18:21-35). He even tells us that if we don’t forgive those who have offended us, our Father in Heaven won’t forgive us (Matthew 6:14,15).
But what does it look like for you and me to forgive those who have hurt us?
Many wrong ideas influence our thoughts about forgiveness, ideas like:
1—I don’t have to forgive if the person who has hurt me doesn’t ask for forgiveness.
2—If I forgive them, it will condone their sinful behavior.
3—Forgiveness means that the relationship is restored and trust is rebuilt.
4—Forgiveness means that I don’t remember the pain or have any negative feelings about the person who has hurt me.
Have you ever been confused by these ideas, or by your feelings? I know I have. Several years ago, someone hurt our family. I knew I needed to forgive them and I prayed fervently for the Lord to help me. But I wasn’t sure how to know if I had really forgiven them. When I saw them, I would get an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach. Those feelings would cause me to question if I had actually forgiven them.
Rick Warren describes forgiveness in a very tangible way, in the 40 Days of Love videos. He says forgiveness is three things:
1—relinquishing my rights to get even,
2—responding to evil with good, and
3—repeating those two things as many times as necessary.
Warren also helps us to understand that forgiveness happens in a moment, but trust must be rebuilt over time. And in order for there to be a healthy relationship, the offender must also make some changes.
I have come to understand that the choice to forgive says a great deal about the spiritual condition of the person. George Wood in his newest book, Living in the Spirit, says it this way: “When you ‘bump’ a genuinely Spirit-filled person, you will get love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, and self-control. But when you ‘bump’ a person who professes to be Spirit-filled but doesn’t have the evidence, out will come meanness, nastiness, bitterness, and hostility.”
It is so helpful to understand these truths about forgiveness. These choices have nothing to do with our feelings. Of course we will remember the pain of hurtful situations. And human relationships change when a person intentionally hurts us. But we can be obedient to the command to forgive. Remember, when you choose to give up your rights to get even, you are forgiving. When you are depending upon the Holy Spirit to respond to evil with His goodness, you are obeying Jesus’ command to forgive.
Be encouraged—when you choose to obey, your feelings will eventually come around. Someone recently said to me, “You can never feel your way into right behavior, but you can behave your way into right feelings.”