Have you ever had someone say to you, “But, I can’t forgive _____; they ____.” You can fill in the blanks. In their minds, they may have multiple reasons as to why they cannot forgive the person. After all, as I mentioned last week, our human response is to want justice. Honestly, it is not that they “can’t” forgive; rather they simply “won’t” forgive. They choose to stay in unforgiveness, believing this is what the “offender” deserves.
I loved my grandfather. I looked up to him all my life. I respected him and cherished the moments as a boy being with him, going fishing, going to church, and even working with him on his dairy farm in the Midwest. I had the most interesting conversation with him when I was a young minister, and he was nearing eighty.
I had called my grandfather to see how he was doing and to talk—I had no agenda. Towards the end of the conversation, he brought up my aunt. He became very angry as he began to describe how my aunt had not visited him on a recent trip to town. I simply said, “Well I know you are disappointed Grandpa, that she didn’t make an effort to see you, but you need to forgive her.” I hardly said those words when he yelled, “I’ll never forgive her!”
I was shocked. I quickly realized I needed to avoid “correcting” my grandfather, and just love him and end the conversation gracefully. He was harboring deep-rooted unforgiveness, bitterness, and anger toward my aunt. I had no idea this was “brewing.” In his mind, she had committed numerous offenses, beginning as a teenager, and her mistakes created the “unpardonable sin.”
Aspects of Forgiveness
Through Jesus Christ, God extended His love, grace, and mercy to humanity. We can receive by faith God’s gift of grace and find forgiveness of our sin—a debt that we never could repay. Paul describes that our forgiveness of sin and complete salvation (forgiveness, healing, and deliverance) is through God’s grace and our faith, not in our religious effort to satisfy the debt of sin (Eph. 2:8-9).
Like the king in the parable of the unforgiving servant I discussed last week, God has extended mercy to us, not giving us what we deserve. God has given grace, a gift, that has reconciled us to himself and that is recreating us into the image and nature of Christ.
Grace is from the Greek charis meaning benefit, favor, or gift. Grace, however, is also divine empowerment. Grace empowers you and me to walk in love and forgiveness toward others. Grace is also an invitation by God to forgive others, even when they do not deserve it. Our human nature, apart from God’s empowering grace, wants justice and vindication. The empowering nature of grace enables the follower of Christ to extend mercy and forgiveness toward others—even if they have not asked for it. Grace is getting something we do not deserve; mercy is not getting what we do deserve.
Many wrongly believe that to forgive others of the wrongs they have committed will “excuse” them of their mistakes. Their logic goes something like this, “Well if I forgive them it’s like letting them go free, unpunished, so I can never forgive them.” No, each person is accountable for their wrongs and actions. God is merciful and compassionate, forgiving everyone who asks of him for his or her mistakes and sin through Christ. Judgment belongs to God, not to you. Your choice to forgive others of their offenses releases you, the one wronged, from the prison of unforgiveness and bitterness.
Some people do not forgive because of the pain and hurt they still carry. They believe it is their “right” to hold onto the offense. They wrongly believe that by not forgiving the offender they are “punishing” them. Internally they “hold a grudge” toward those who hurt them; thinking that by doing so they are punishing or executing vengeance on the offender. Their subconscious goal is to receive justice. Most of the time the perpetrator is not even aware of the bitterness directed toward them.
As Jesus explained in Matthew 18, what happens with this type of behavior is the person holding onto unforgiveness imprisons himself or herself. Unforgiveness tortures and imprisons with bitterness those who refuse to let go of it. Worse, the unforgiveness and bitterness that many harbor can lead to serious physical ailments.
Some mistakenly believe that if they forgive someone, restoration of relationship must occur with the person. Jesus said we must forgive, and we are to endeavor to live at peace with others (Eph. 4:3), but this does not mean that all relationships can or will be restored. For example, you may need to forgive someone who passed away or someone criminally charged for an offense who is incarcerated.
If for example, a family member or friend molested your children, you should forgive them, but you should set up healthy boundaries for the safety of those children or others involved. Another example could be that of a business associate who lied about business affairs or fraudulently wronged you. You should forgive in each situation, but reestablishing relationship, or the level of relationship before the offense, may not be possible or healthy in some cases.
Forgiveness is mandatory, but the restoration of relationship is conditional. Forgiveness of others restores you to a right relationship with the Father and the river of his grace. Forgiveness is a choice, not a feeling. Your feelings will eventually follow your choice to forgive. Initially, you may not “feel” like forgiving someone who has hurt and wronged you—but you must. As you choose to forgive others, God will empower you to release them from the harm they caused you. His grace will begin to heal the hurt in your heart toward the person or individuals who have wronged you. Mercy and grace are core attributes of our loving Father; learning to live a life of forgiveness empowers us to live in His compassion and grace.
Arthritis and Forgiveness
While praying for the sick after a service, a woman approached me asking for prayer due to severe arthritis in her hands. She was a middle-aged woman who looked in good health—except for her clenched, pain-filled hands. I asked her how long she had the pain and clenching of her hands, and she told me about five years. I then asked her if anything significant happened five years ago when these symptoms began. Her facial countenance changed as she explained how her husband left her for another woman, and how her pain began soon after. I asked her if she had forgiven her ex-husband, and she said, “No, I haven’t, and I don’t think I will ever be able to forgive him.”
I then shared with her the necessity of forgiveness. I explained to her that by forgiving her husband, it did not excuse him of the wrong that he did, but it would release her from the torment of unforgiveness. I also explained to her that forgiveness was a choice, an act of obedience to God’s directive and that God would begin to heal the hurt in her heart toward her ex-husband.
She agreed to allow me to lead her in a prayer of forgiveness toward her ex-husband, and as she prayed with me, tears began to flow from her eyes. I then prayed for healing of the clenching in her hands and for the pain to go. Less than a minute later, she could freely move her hands, no more clenching, and all of the pain was gone. Jesus healed her hands, but He began to heal her heart of the hurt caused by her former husband first. Her healing began when she chose to forgive. Forgiveness is a choice, not a feeling.
According to Dr. Loring T. Swaim, author of Arthritis, Medicine, and Spiritual Laws, a primary cause of arthritis is unresolved negative emotions and anger. Proverbs describes the effect of anger and negative emotions, “A peaceful mind gives life to the body, but jealousy rots the bones” (Prov. 14:30 CEB). Anger, bitterness, and unresolved negative emotions can lead to detrimental health issues—not the least of which is arthritis. Most people involved with healing ministry are aware of this reality.
I remember watching many years ago a teaching about forgiveness and bitterness by Derek Prince, a respected Bible teacher in the twentieth century. Prince believed and taught that nearly all arthritis and joint pain suffered by people was a result of their lack of forgiveness toward others. Unforgiveness unresolved becomes bitterness, causing severe arthritic conditions. He would commonly pray for the healing of arthritis after leading people through prayers of forgiveness with remarkable success in his ministry.
Prayers to Forgive
Father, I chose to forgive the ones who have hurt me so deeply and sinned against me. I forgive __________. I give them the gift of unconditional forgiveness, with no strings attached. They owe me nothing. I trust you to turn it for good. I break the judgments I have against them; I release them now in Jesus name.
Lord, I also forgive myself for my own failures and mistakes. I let go of it all. Lord, I want to be free. I want to break the hold of the enemy in my life. I put the cross of Jesus Christ between my heart and everything I was due to reap from the law of sowing and reaping, because I do choose mercy over judgment.
Jesus, I invite you now to go back to the past, where the hurts and wounds have occurred, begin to heal me of the _______ (anger, hate, self-hate, rejection, fear, etc.) that took place.