Often, people I chat with online are angry. Their anger issue usually stems from an emotional wound inflicted by someone they’ve not forgiven.
For example, a recent chatter couldn’t seem to forgive two close relatives. It was eating him up. He’d already been told forgiving his unrepentant offenders would bring relief; he just didn’t know how to do it.
The late Dawson McAllister said, “Forgiveness means giving up your right to get even.”
Having a right to get even means someone has wronged you. And if you think someone is getting away with something at your expense . . . well, that’ll really tick you off. You want to make it right, but you can’t. The emotional baggage of that perceived injustice can cause more damage to your psyche than the original offense did. And with a longer-lasting effect.
Extending forgiveness doesn’t condone bad behavior. Nor does it provide an opening and empower the perpetrator to hurt you again. When someone violates your trust, he must demonstrate himself worthy before earning it back.
Forgiveness may not even mean talking to the perpetrator. He probably didn’t ask for your forgiveness anyway. Instead, you’re not going to hold a grudge. When you don’t let go of an offense, you allow others to control you even after they’re gone. It’s wiser to release to God a burden you aren’t equipped to carry. Forgiveness benefits the victim, not the perpetrator.
Extending forgiveness is the only way to escape this type of anger. It’s a transaction between the victim and God. It’s also an act of obedience. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said:
“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”Matthew 6:14-15 NIV
Forgiveness says, “I leave the fate of my perpetrator to the Holy One, who knows better than I do how to deal with him.” It entrusts our destiny to that same God, realizing that we’ve also been a perpetrator—against Him and His commandments. None of us is righteous in His sight until cleansed by the Savior’s blood.
How to Do It
It’s easy to think or even say, “I forgive so-and-so.” But do our feelings then fall in line with that statement? Or do they continue digging the ditch of bitterness that will surely catch us the next time we stumble off the pathway to freedom?
My chatter was frustrated with himself. He knew what he needed to do but couldn’t seem to do it. When I invited him to pray and leave it in God’s hands, rather than writing “I forgive so-and-so” and asking God to take the burden from him, he typed, “God help me forgive so-and-so.” There’s a significant distinction between those two requests.
His prayer wasn’t forgiveness at all. Instead of letting go, he was hanging on—and stalling. I respectfully pointed out that extending forgiveness is a willful act, a choice. It’s an act of obedience even when we don’t feel like doing it.
When I married Debbie, I didn’t know how to live a married life. But in good faith, I came to the altar. An officiant under the auspices of Jesus Christ sealed my vows with hers. I made a commitment because not only did I love Debbie, but I also thought it was the right and best thing to do. Only then did I need God’s help to make marriage work, not before.
The same is true when we need to forgive someone. We decide to do it, make the commitment, seal it before God, and then rely on His help to see it through whatever rocky roads may come.
When I described the above marriage analogy to my chatter, a lightbulb lit up his thinking. He typed another prayer: “I forgive so-and-so,” and he asked God to assume his burden. After his prayer, he said, “I feel better already.”
He’s not out of the woods yet. But now he’s following his Compass, stepping in the right direction and relying on God’s help while recognizing his own need for a Savior.