Kenneth Hart, a psychology professor at the University of Windsor (Ontario, Canada), conducted a very interesting study about forgiveness. He closely followed sixty-six recovering alcoholics and learned that they all had one thing in common. They were all angry with someone. Mr. Hart found that teaching forgiveness could break the cycle that makes recovering alcoholics go back to alcohol. When they released their anger through forgiveness, they no longer needed to drink alcohol in order to escape. One of the former addicts said, “Forgiveness is more for yourself than for the person you’re forgiving. For me to forgive that person sets me free.”
It never ceases to amaze me the number of problems that forgiveness can solve.
Perhaps you are already convinced that there are many benefits when we forgive. Maybe you even know that the Bible commands us to forgive each other, just as Christ has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:32). How can you make it happen, though? How do you forgive someone who has deeply wronged you?
Forgiving others begins with a humble admission that we need forgiveness ourselves. The Bible explains: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6). It also says in Romans 3:10-12, “There is none righteous, not even one; There is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, there is not even one.”
Remember that God is gloriously holy, completely without sin. On the other hand, we are naturally selfish (self-focused) and fail to wholeheartedly love the God who created us. We should not only love Him because He brought us into being, but we should also love Him because of Jesus. Jesus is the God-man who suffered the hell that we deserve on the cross in our place. He did that for us so that we would not have to spend eternity separated from our Creator God.
Remember, it doesn’t matter if we are good compared to other people. The best of us are nowhere near sinless or holy. That is what God requires. We all need God’s forgiveness and His righteous covering–like everyone else in this world. When we have it, we can say, “I will rejoice greatly in the Lord, my soul will exult in my God; For He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness….” (Isaiah 61:10).
Jesus gave us the next piece of the forgiveness puzzle in Luke 6:27-28: “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless [“speak well of”] those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” Jesus didn’t say that we must FEEL like doing those things. We should do them just because He asks us to. The truth is that it is extremely hard to be angry with a person while you are asking God to bless them.
Here’s another way to look at it: The Bible clearly says, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, [in Deut. 32] ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19). When someone hurts us, our natural desire for justice wants to see him or her hurt in return.
Someone has said that UNforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to get sick.
When we look at Scripture, we are left with a choice. We can either decide to trust God to do the judging and the retaliation, or we can try to do it ourselves, try to do His job. When we forgive, we are choosing to believe God. We are handing over to Him our right to choose how the offender should suffer. Forgiveness means we are trusting God to do what is right in that hurtful situation. “Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but he who trusts in the Lord, lovingkindness shall surround him” (Psalm 32:10). Since God also promises to take care of those who surrender to Him (Philippians 4:19), we should believe that He will do just that. In other words, trust God to take care of you and the one who hurt you.
Real forgiveness also requires that we promise to obey God’s command to love. “Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; … it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered” (1 Corinthians 13:4-5). Author Ken Sande explains that we can obey God’s command to forgive if we are willing to make four promises:
I will not dwell on this incident.
I will not bring up this incident again and use it against you.
I will not talk to others about this incident.
I will not let this incident stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.
Forgiveness is the key that opens the doorway to emotional healing and freedom. To forgive is to set a prisoner free. When you do it, you will discover that the prisoner you have freed is yourself. “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32).
If you would like more information about forgiveness, please contact me. There is no greater joy than to know that all our sins have been forgiven by God, and to trust Him completely for everything. We experience wonderful peace when we let God handle our hurts.