For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. ~Matthew 6:14-15I think it's not wise for us to blow past this verse because it doesn't suit us. I think forgiveness is serious business. If there's one thing I know, I need forgiveness. A lot. Seriously...I tend to hurt people and screw things up on a regular basis, and I'm very thankful for the loving and forgiving people God has placed in my life who put up with my messed up self. But I can't stop at just being thankful for the forgiveness I am blessed to receive. I have to turn around and give it as well.
There's been some really, really hard situations I have walked through in my life. And there are some that I am currently walking through. Part of me screams out the outrage at the offenses of others. How could they? Are they crazy? Don't they know how terrible this is? Maybe they do, maybe they don't. Do I, when I am hurting others, think about those things? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. But here's the thing. It's completely irrelevant. I have to forgive. Here's why.
First of all, as a follower of Jesus, I have to forgive because He tells me too. If I am desiring to put off the old me and take on the character of Christ himself, there is no room for unforgiveness. In fact, it's complete arrogance on my part to think that I have the right to withhold what God himself does not withhold! Does God cross his arms, put on his pouty face and say, "I'm just not 'ready' to forgive. Check back with me after you've grovelled a little more, and I'll see..." Nope. His forgiveness is extended before I even ask. (Now, it's up to me, as the offender, to accept the forgiveness, but that's a different track than I am on today.)
Secondly, forgiveness is about releasing myself. I've heard it said that holding unforgiveness toward someone is like drinking poison, and then waiting for the other person to die. It only hurts ourselves. Unforgiveness keeps us bound up, stressed, and can even result in physical ailments. (Trust me, I speak from personal experience here...) And, in addition to all that, it accomplishes absolutely nothing positive. We might think we are punishing the offender (which, isn'tour job anyway) but most of the time, it's really not even doing that. It's, rather, just eating us alive.
Let me also clarify something here; it's not that I am saying this is easy. Believe me, I know it's not. I'm walking through some tough situations right now in life that are requiring me to forgive and release over and over. Sometimes I forgive, get hurt or offended again, and need to forgive again. It's not necessarily and once and done thing. Every time the wound starts stinging and oozing again, I have to choose to forgive again. It's not about how I feel. And it's a good thing too, because how I feel is hurt. And angry. (And there is such a thing as being angry -at an injustice for example - and NOT sinning in the midst of it. Choosing not to forgive is being angry AND sinning, on my part, because I am told to forgive.) Forgiving is more about humbling my own arrogant self, and saying I am not the judge. God will have to deal with the other person, but I am responsible for my own choices in how I handle things.
I am also not saying that forgiveness means living without boundaries or putting ourselves into unhealthy situations. We can be forgiven for our actions, but that does not mean they don't still carry consequences. Jesus talked about boundaries. When he sent out the disciples he told them that if they weren't welcomed somewhere, and the people wouldn't listen to them, to shake off the dust of that place and move on. We don't have to stay in a situation that is hurtful or unhealthy; it's okay to move on sometimes. But we have to move on with a clear conscience, which means - you guessed it - we still have to forgive. Jesus told them, if the place was deserving to "let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you." (Matt. 10:13) How do you "let your peace return to you"? Well, largely in part by releasing the person/people that have hurt or rejected you. But you saw that one coming, didn't you? ;) So go ahead and make a healthy choice today...