Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
— Colossians 3:12–14
If you’re waiting for the day when you “feel” like forgiving to forgive, you probably never will. The pain is too deep, the wound too raw, or the scar too unbearable to produce anything but negative feelings when it enters your consciousness. The blessing of forgiveness is that it doesn’t have to. It is a decision. Not an easy one or a quick one, but a decision nonetheless. And because it is a decision, it is within our power to choose.
This is why Jesus’ command to Peter to forgive 77 times is not as outrageous as it sounds. The number is not nearly as important as our decision to forgive, regardless of the count.
At this point, our rational mind begins to protest: Surely Jesus doesn’t want me to be a doormat that people can walk all over with no repercussions whatsoever. Surely this is not His plan for my life. Surely there is a point at which I must stand up for myself and withhold forgiveness to stop the perpetrator.
This is where our hearts so often deceive us. We mistakenly believe that by avoiding forgiveness, we are somehow controlling the other person’s actions. We use a lack of forgiveness as a weapon against them to make them pay, or at least suffer, for what they’ve done.
The opposite proves true. In withholding forgiveness, we are the ones who end up being controlled. If forgiveness is a blessing, lack of forgiveness is a burden – a burden we carry, not the wrongdoer. Refusing to forgive someone damages our spirit, psyche, and soul more than it does the one who has wronged us. In seeking to make life worse for them, we only make it worse for ourselves.
However, knowing this information alone may not convince us to forgive. Our hearts are often more interested in self-protection and self-preservation than rational thought. Withholding forgiveness often feels like the surest way to set up impenetrable walls against future damage. The problem with walls is that while they may keep others out, they also keep us locked in.
Thankfully, the truth of the gospel can tear down our walls. Ephesians 2:14–18 talks about how the cross of Christ tore down the wall between Jews and Gentiles, but the same is true for those of us who have a similar hostility toward another group or individual. When we are at war with another, even a cold war of forgiveness withheld, Christ is our peace. We can lay down our arms of bitter grudges and toxic attitudes and open our arms to embrace – yes, embrace – those who have wronged us.
Again, our rational mind kicks in. Isn’t such a thing dangerous? If we forgive those who have wronged us and embrace them, aren’t we just opening ourselves back up to the same abuse, the same wrong, the same cycle of hurt and pain that caused us to have to forgive in the first place? Is forgiveness meant to be a hamster wheel?
The answer, thankfully, is no. Tomorrow we’ll talk more about the “limits” of forgiveness and how forgiveness can work at a practical level in our lives.