Forgiveness plays a central role in our salvation. As we come to Christ for the first time – or the thousandth time – to confess our sins, we also rejoice in the knowledge that all of our sins have been forgiven, the filth of our wrongdoings wiped clean from the slate of our souls. Christ has cancelled all of our debts by paying the ultimate price, and forgiveness is ours if only we ask for it.
Most of us are keenly aware of our own shortcomings, seeking forgiveness in a confessional room or kneeling next to our own beds, confessing our daily transgressions of lying to our bosses, being too harsh with our children or sneaking in that expired coupon in the grocery store. We unload our heavy hearts before God, fully knowing we will be forgiven. We have learned how to ask for and humbly receive forgiveness. But do we know how to forgive others?
To bestow forgiveness on others is as important to our salvation as it is to accept forgiveness from God, as we have learned time and again from Scripture.
And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. —Mark 11:25, KJV
Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven. —Luke 6:37, KJV
Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. —Colossians 3:13, KJV
Forgiveness can be a terribly sensitive subject for many Christians. How many of us have experienced a heart-wrenching divorce or the betrayal of a close friend? The transgressions of those closest to us can turn our hearts into emotional disaster areas. We are overcome with anger and pain that often becomes resentment and grudges – and the grudges we carry against someone else will ultimately end up becoming a wedge between us and God.
When we are hurt, it is perfectly normal – and it is okay – to feel sad or angry. It is a natural human response that even Jesus experienced when He found the Disciples asleep while He was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-45). It’s okay to walk away and give yourself some time and space to cool off. For some of us, that might even be the wisest thing to do, since the heat of the moment can cause us to say or do things we’d never do otherwise.
So you had a spat with your best friend – or your spouse, your coworker or the guy that delivers the mail – and you’ve had some time to collect yourself. Now what?
Perhaps an apology will be offered to you. Maybe the other person realized his or her actions hurt you and is sincerely sorry. If that’s the case, a short chat may or may not be warranted, depending on the situation. Use your best judgment. If an apology is readily offered to you, you may be tempted to lash out and withhold forgiveness. After all, the very nature of remorse requires one to put pride aside and make oneself vulnerable, putting you in the position of power.
If you find yourself tempted to take advantage of your transgressor’s vulnerability, remember that this will only hurt you and your relationship with God. Forgive as you have been forgiven and move on in the relationship.
Maybe there was no apology. Maybe you’ve been going through the motions with this other person, having conversation in short, clipped sentences with long bouts of awkward silence between as you both try to avoid the elephant in the room. If that’s the case, you may need to take initiative in order for healing to begin. Confront the other person, calmly, and explain your feelings. Remind him or her that you value the relationship. You might even suggest corrective action to prevent a recurring incident in the future.
A confrontation, even a calm one, can be a scary and even painful experience, but forgiveness will bring you peace and healing.
Each day, we have a choice. We can choose to forgive, or we can choose to withhold forgiveness. Only by forgiving can we set ourselves free to dance in the light of God.