We have all been wronged and hurt in our lives. Living in a fallen world, the biggest pains often come from the people that we consider to be closest to us. There are many ways to deal with this kind of hurt, but we usually choose one of three options: to pay back, to forget or to forgive.
The first option is revenge. Many times, when we feel hurt by someone, we immediately want them to feel pain back. Often, we are aware of this desire and make a decision that we think will even the score. We take their sin and multiply it by justifying our own sin. We think the only way that we can feel better is if we make them feel the same kind of hurt that we are feeling. What we fail to realize in this situation is that their pain does not remove our pain. Although this may bring temporary satisfaction, the pain will eventually resurface because it has not been taken away.
Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
— Romans 12:17–19
When we attempt to take revenge into our own hands, we are working against Gods Word. We are believing that God is not enough, that we need to handle matters ourselves.
We also can attempt to pay people back subconsciously. For example, if I feel hurt by something that my wife has said to me, I have options on how to deal with it. Trying to be a good Christian boy, I don’t want to just repay her with another insult, so I immediately confront her and let her know how she has hurt me. The Bible says that we are supposed to forgive people and then go confront them. Mark 11:25 says that if you are praying, and you realize that you have something against someone, you must forgive them right then. We can still confront them, which Jesus references in Matthew 18, but not before we forgive. If we confront people before we forgive, we are usually looking get revenge by making them hurt for hurting us. They made us feel bad, so we are going to make them feel bad too. But this can be deadly. In this situation, you are not telling them their mistake for their sake, you are doing it for your sake. And the fruit of that decision will be grief, bitterness and despair.
The second option is to forget. When I am attempting to deal with pain from others without lashing back out at them, I often tell myself just to forget it. So I store it away in some corner of my brain and attempt to move on from it. Then at some point, because we all sin, I get hurt again, and I attempt to forget by storing it away in a corner of my brain. Then I get hurt again by someone, and again I try to forget and store it away in whatever corner of my brain that is left. Two things can come from all of these stored up hurts in the corners — which now make up the majority — of my brain. First, they begin to shape my identity. I have been hurt, been wronged, been judged, been beaten up by so many different people’s words and actions through the years, that it begins to define my own self-image and self-worth. My own self-worth is stitched together like a 20-year-old dog toy. This will obviously end terribly. When we constantly store away hurt and pain without forgiveness, it begins to fester and turn into anger and bitterness. We find ourselves no longer able to function in healthy relationships with people and, often times, with God.
Watch out that no bitter root of unbelief rises up among you, for whenever it springs up, many are corrupted by its poison.
— Hebrews 12:15
Bitterness leads to poison. Poison leads to death. Holding on to anger and letting it turn into bitterness usually affects our relationship with God. It becomes difficult to function in a reality where God sent his Son to die for us so that all of our sins can be forgiven, yet we can not get over the bitterness that we have for another person.
So the third option is to forgive. But where do we get the power to do this, especially if the person that hurt us does not even care? This is called the power of grace. Jesus gives us the solution. As Christ followers, we must remember that we live only by the forgiving grace of God, every day of our lives. The Gospel says that we are so filthy, and have wronged so many people — and God — that nothing less than the death of Jesus himself could save us. Yet we are so loved that Jesus himself would die for us. This is the example of grace that we are supposed to reflect on everyone that has hurt us.
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
— Ephesians 4:42
“Our sins hurt Jesus infinitely more than anyone will ever hurt you. You may feel like someone is crucifying you, but our sins really did put Jesus on the cross, yet he forgave us.”
— Tim Keller