A Burden Released
Forgiveness is not easy. Our natural instinct is to recoil in self-protection when we have been hurt by others. God’s love, mercy, grace and understanding don’t naturally flow out when we have been wronged. If anything, our first instinct is to lash out and seek revenge so we can be compensated for the hurt or loss we have suffered.
The Bible has a lot to say about forgiveness. In Matthew 6:14,15, Jesus said, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Forgiveness is a two-way street. In the parable of the unmerciful slave, Jesus equated forgiveness with canceling a debt (Matthew 18:23-35). It’s a basic Biblical truth we can’t run from: we forgive others because God forgives us. Forgiving others is a prerequisite for our own forgiveness. This does not mean that we must earn God’s forgiveness with our own forgiveness of others. Instead, our forgiveness of others demonstrates our need of being forgiven by God. It shows what the Lord has done in us and for us. The attitude of forgiveness demonstrates genuine repentance. We can’t expect our prayers for forgiveness to be heard if we pray with malice and spite towards others in our hearts. To pray in such a state is mere formality and hypocrisy.
As important as this is, it is fundamental to point out that forgiveness is not something we do for others, it is something we do for ourselves. Too many times when we choose not to forgive, we become slaves to bitterness and resentment. In his book Forgive and Forget, Lewis Smedes writes, “When you release the wrongdoer from the wrong, you cut a malignant tumor out of your inner life. You set a prisoner free, but you discover that the real prisoner was yourself.” Nothing compares to the freedom we can feel when we learn to truly forgive. It is as if a huge weight is removed from our hearts. Perhaps that is why I like the word “forgiveness” in Greek, which means “to let go.” To me, it means to be free and trust God for justice and leave the outcome in His hands.
So, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, don’t forget that God stands ready and is willing to forgive us, but He asks that we extend the same forgiveness to others first. Also, the next time you find yourself wanting to lash out or harden your heart with unforgiveness, remember what God has done for you and what true forgiveness can offer.
By Lee-Roy Chacon, President