The biblical mandate to forgive
God wants us to forgive (see 2 Cor 2:5-8; Eph 4:32; Col 3:13). Sometimes forgiveness can be hard, but that does not absolve us from our responsibility as Christians. We know that while believers will not stand before the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev 20:11-15), we will stand before the Judgement Seat of Christ to receive compensation for what we have done in life (2 Cor 5:10). If we don’t forgive people now, then we could be setting ourselves up for failure at this judgment. James writes:
So speak ye, and so act, as those that are to be judged by the law of liberty; for judgment will be without mercy to him that has shewn no mercy. Mercy glories over judgment. (Jas 2:12-13 DBY)
For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. (Matt 7:2 KJV)
It’s also important for believers to forgive others today in order to have a healthy fellowship with God here and now (before the Judgment Seat of Christ). Talking about God’s fellowship with believers, which includes ongoing forgiveness as believers still sin, Jesus said:
For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matt 6:14-15 KJV)
Forgiveness is vital to a healthy walk with God! Forgiveness does not mean that we need to restore fellowship with certain people (some serious caveats apply), but we are commanded to forgive and sometimes forgiveness is incredibly difficult. I have come up with a tool that has helped me out with some of the bigger pains in my own life and I wanted to share it here.
My personal pain
If you have ever heard me tell my testimony, I probably began by saying that I was raised in a seeker-sensitive youth group that was somewhat on the finder-insensitive side. I did not learn the Bible growing up, but instead many of us who were in church (myself included) concluded that Christianity was void of answers to life’s biggest questions. Whenever I give my testimony, I may give more or fewer details (like the time I was in a Jewish prison gang) depending on the situation, audience, and time allowance where I’m speaking, but my background in watered-down Christianity is fundamental to my story. So is the pain that church inflicted on me in those days.
I won’t go into the boring details, but when I was a teenager, I was put under the spiritual leadership of neglectful people. Just as it is physical child abuse to withhold physical food from a physical baby, it is spiritual child abuse to withhold spiritual food from spiritual babies. A baby doesn’t always understand when things aren’t right, he’s just making sense of the world around him. Anyhoo, suffice it to say that the youth group did not feed us and as a result, most of us abandoned Christianity.
I’m one of the lucky ones, really. I ended up in federal prison and took advantage of the wake-up call to reexamine Christianity. My examination of the apologetic evidence revealed that Christianity is legitimate and my examination of doctrine revealed that Christianity is full of answers. The fact that going to prison makes me lucky should be a red flag. Not all of us were so fortunate.
One day, I was thinking about the pain that these spiritual leaders inflicted on me and the problems it caused me in the following years. My blood started to boil. How could they do that to us? What’s worse, I have not seen any sign of remorse or repentance from their end. How can they keep going when they know what destruction they’re causing?
That’s when this forgiveness hack struck me.
I sincerely believe that if these people could feel the pain they caused us, just for a little while, then it would change their lives forever. They mistakenly think that they gave us a biblical worldview and they just don’t realize how they pushed us away from Christianity instead. If they could feel our pain, then it would clear up the mistake and they would change. And if they changed, then it would be so much easier to forgive them.
But the fact is those people who hurt me do not know what kind of pain they caused me. Nor can they. Yes, they would change if they could feel the pain, but technically, there’s no way for me to do a pain transfer. In that light, I was really only withholding forgiveness from them based on a technicality.
So, here’s my forgiveness hack: When it seems impossible to forgive someone, I just ask myself, “What is something that’s technically impossible, but would make it easy to forgive them?” Once I realize that I’m holding a grudge on a technicality, it becomes easier to laugh at myself, forgive them, and move on.
Might not help everyone in every situation, but it has helped me through a few hard spots.