Why is learning how to forgive so important? Read more in this helpful article that includes Bible verses about forgiveness.
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. – Matthew 6:14-15
In this fallen world, conflict is inevitable. Differing abilities, personalities, and agendas ensure that we will never always get our way even if we are dealing with the people closest to us.
One of the most difficult things for a person to do is forgive. Even if intellectually a person is aware of the need to forgive, it can be very difficult for the heart to let go of the hurt and for the mind to stop replaying the incident. But if true forgiveness cannot be achieved, it becomes harder to move forward in one’s relationships, making life even more frustrating and lonely.
Differing Experiences of Forgiveness
Since everyone has differing backgrounds, people’s ideas of forgiveness can also be quite different. In some families, members verbally express their forgiveness through phrases like “I’m sorry,” “Please forgive me,” or “I won’t do it again.” In other families, in addition to verbally expressing regret, it may be expected that the offender also makes amends for what they did such as giving a gift or helping the offended person with their chores.
And then, there are also families where nothing needs to be said just a look, a hug, or a change of demeanor is enough to tell that someone has been forgiven. With so many differences, it is no wonder why people are sometimes frustrated with one another even if forgiveness has already been expressed.
The One Similarity
Despite said differences, one thing in common for most is that when forgiveness has been asked for and granted, the offender is expected NOT to repeat the same behavior. If they do, it becomes even harder for the offended person to forgive again as they now believe there is a lack of sincerity.
Sadly, as everyone is still in varying stages of maturity, offenses are still bound to occur. This is why many people live in states of unforgiveness.
The Decision to Forgive
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
It is very clear from Scripture that everyone needs to learn how to forgive. God wants His people to reconcile with one another, knowing that even the smallest of hurts can lead to huge relationship gaps if the wounds are left to fester.
In fact, in today’s times, it is a common occurrence for people – particularly the young and even the young at heart – to take offense because someone failed to greet them online on their birthday; did not “like” their latest selfie, or posted a critique rather than a positive comment.
The Negative Effects
Although it may seem “gratifying” at the start to choose NOT to forgive, as the one hurt may believe the offender does not deserve their forgiveness, staying in a state of unforgiveness shall begin to eat away at the offended person’s peace of mind which will affect the relationship.
When someone carries a burden in their heart, the painful memory often returns to haunt them, especially if the offender is someone they regularly see. This causes the offended person to feel angry and bitter. Sometimes, if such negative feelings cannot be controlled, that anger and bitterness can even spill over into their other relationships.
Sadness is another result of an unforgiving heart, particularly if the offender is someone very close. The offended person may even find themselves wondering about their self-worth, making the situation even more painful as they may fall into depression because of so much bitterness and sadness inside.
A Change of Heart
As earlier mentioned, forgiving others is not easy. True forgiveness requires a humbling of the heart so that one’s focus is on the importance of the other person, not on one’s dignity.
Though “scary” at first, as it is difficult to put oneself in a position of vulnerability, the benefits of forgiveness are well worth it.
Aside from restoring the relationship, the person will have peace of mind, knowing that they made the right choice. There are physical benefits as well since a person who has a clear conscience and an unburdened soul generally feels more upbeat compared to someone always straining to keep their emotions in check. Thus, forgiveness is good for the mind and the body.
The Complications of Forgiveness
Despite the willingness to forgive, there are still many obstacles that a person may face.
1. They are NOT Asking for Forgiveness
Many believe that the offender needs to first ask for forgiveness before it can be given; if not, then “forgiveness” is pointless. In their mind, they are thinking: How can there be true reconciliation if the offender does not think they have done something wrong? Or what if the offender does not even care?
Scripture, however, presents the idea of forgiving anyway. In Luke 23:32-34, an innocent Jesus is crucified between two other criminals. Despite being wrongly crucified, Jesus still asks for mercy to be granted upon His accusers stating, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
This implies that a person with a forgiving heart should take that first step towards reconciliation, rather than waiting for the offender to make the first move. It does not matter that they are the victim. What does matter is that they are not willing to let anger and bitterness take root.
2. They Offend Us Again
As imperfect people still maturing in Christ, chances are that the offender will end up hurting us again willingly or unknowingly. So is forgiveness still to be extended? Biblically, the answer is “Yes.”
In Luke 17:3-4, Jesus addresses His disciples and informs them: “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”
In Matthew 18:21-22, this command to forgive repeated offenses is made even broader: 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.”
Understandably, this may seem illogical as people may take advantage of one’s “goodness.” But forgiving is not necessarily “forgetting,” as if a person did not experience the hurt in the first place. Just like in all aspects of life, everyone is expected to learn from their negative experiences so that they do not fall victim to them again (since having wisdom is just as biblical as forgiveness!).
However, the idea here is that in case that the other person offends us again, God expects all of us to be willing to forgive from the heart once more, just as He is able to continuously forgive each and every one of us who continue to sin on a daily basis.
3. The Offense Happened Long Ago
In some situations, the offense happened in the past and there is no more communication with the offender. Definitely, if recalling the situation brings back any lingering pain, it means that forgiveness needs to be extended (and soon!) as the hurt is still eating away at one’s inner peace.
But even if there is no more “pain” now, one should still intentionally forgive if they haven’t done so in the past. Every act of forgiveness helps the person grow in love as they trust more in the power and love of God.
Does this mean that all means should be exhausted to get in touch with the past offender? This may depend upon the extent of the hurt to both parties. But if a sense of closure is not achieved when the person prays in their heart, it may be a sign that contact should be established. Prayer and discernment are needed to determine this.
Christian Counseling to Help with How to Forgive
Loving others does not mean that a person should become a doormat just so that the relationship remains intact. God wants His children to respect and love one another in the right way. But as imperfect beings, transgressions are bound to happen which is learning how to forgive is so important.
Forgiveness, however, can be very difficult, especially if the pain has been gnawing away at the person for years or if the painful incident was a very traumatizing one. In such instances, if a person has been living with such anger, bitterness, or extreme sadness because of unforgiveness, it may be time for them to seek professional help from a Christian counselor.
In Christian counseling, the latest therapeutic techniques will be used to help the person open up and identify the sources of their pain. This is particularly necessary if the number of offenses has piled up over the years.
Moreover, the person will be taught how to discern when to say “No” if they feel that their kindness is being abused. If needed, Christian family therapy is also available in case assistance is required to mend the various relationships within the family.
But most importantly, in Christian counseling, the faith-based counselor will focus on strengthening the person’s relationship with God through prayer and meditation on Scripture.
Questions about God will also be answered as most people who live in a state of unforgiveness have issues on varying aspects of their faith. Once the person has come to fully understand how blessed they are to be loved by an all-powerful, merciful God, they might finally be able to truly forgive for good.
If you or a loved one is struggling with unforgiveness, seek professional assistance soon. A person’s heart can be set free once they truly learn how to forgive.
“Conviction”, Courtesy of Priscilla Du Preez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Riders on the Storm”, Courtesy of Victor Rodriguez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Let Go and Be Free”, Courtesy of Darius Bashar, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Take this Flower”, Courtesy of Evan Kirby, Unsplash.com, CC0 License