Forgiveness is an incredibly powerful topic. Choosing to forgive someone who has hurt you can free you from the pain caused by others. Consequently, unforgiveness can shackle you to the past, robbing you of peace and joy. Forgiveness isn’t complicated, but it is difficult. Why is forgiveness so hard?
Over the years, I’ve done quite a bit of Christian counseling and coaching in the area of forgiveness. In that time, 3 challenges consistently come up…
First, forgiveness is often misunderstood. When we strongly add or take away to the biblical definition of forgiveness, we can’t apply it effectively to our relationships. It’s like trying to use a recipe with all the wrong ingredients – you would end up with a mess.
Second, we categorize sin according to the world’s estimation. Putting the offenses into categories of bad, worse and worst, is not what the Bible says about sin. Either you sin or you don’t (spoiler alert – we all sin). Doing the judging of sin, traps us into believing some sins are forgivable and some aren’t.
Thirdly, bitterness and resentment gets deeply rooted, causing forgiveness to be seemingly impossible as we allow our emotions to drive our ability to let go of the past.
Let’s dive a bit deeper into each of these 3 challenges that make us ask the question, “Why is forgiveness so hard?”
Why is forgiveness so hard?
1. Forgiveness is often misunderstood.
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:32
The forgiveness we receive through Christ is not earned or deserved. Jesus paid the debt of my sin, I could never pay myself. The Bible clearly states that we all sin and are in need of a Savior (Romans 3:23 – 24). Jesus is the Savior, God sent for all who come to Him in faith for salvation from the punishment of our sins (Romans 10:13).
God’s forgiveness means He is faithful to forgive (1 John 1:9) and removes my sin as far as the east is to the west (Psalm 103:12).
Now let’s apply this to our relationships. Ephesians 4:32 commands we forgive others, just as God forgives us. It doesn’t add stipulations or conditions. The Bible doesn’t say only forgive if the offender says sorry. Nor, does it say, forgive as long as they don’t do it again. Furthermore, we don’t get a pass because forgiveness is hard.
Forgiveness releases the offender from our punishment. We’re releasing the offense and situation into God’s hands. He alone is Judge. He will settle the accounts. God is the One to whom we can entrust our hurts.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean we allow destructive patterns of hurt into our lives. Nor does it mean we excuse and tolerate the offense. We are called to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), not ignore hurtful patterns. Excusing and tolerating bad behavior isn’t good for anyone.
2. We wrongly measure sin as big or small.
For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. James 2:10
When we view sin through a worldly lens, we determine its “level”. We become tempted to judge the sins of others. The position of Judge belongs to only One (Isaiah 33:22).
I’m not sure where it originated, but I love the illustration of the skyscraper line. When we stand facing buildings they are all different heights. Some bigger, some smaller. We tend to view sin in the same way-different sizes. But God has a top view. Every building is the same size. That is how God sees sin. There is no sin greater than another.
What if we saw sin through God’s eyes? We would no longer determine what is “unforgivable”. We would recognize that all sin is forgiveable. “I can’t forgive”, wouldn’t be part of our vocabulary.
Forgiveness would be offered because we would recognize all that God has forgiven in our own lives. Knowing the freedom we have in Christ would prompt us to choose to forgive others.
3. Bitterness has already taken root.
See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. Hebrews 12:15
Last winter we moved to a new home. As spring is upon us, we’ve moved to working outdoors in the garden. Several trees have sprouted up in weird places. We pulled at least a dozen out by the roots. Unfortunately, a few have taken root and were not as easily pulled. When unforgiveness develops into bitterness it is also not so easily rooted up.
Unforgiveness leads to bitterness. Once bitterness takes root, it gets harder to pull up. Its’ roots choke out joy and peace as anger and resentment spread through our lives.
Forgiveness on the other hand opens the door to healing. Without forgiveness we don’t heal from the pain caused by others. Too often, we mistakenly think we will be able to forgive when we have done some healing. However, I’ve never seen true healing happen before forgiveness has taken place.
3 Reasons Why Forgiveness is so Hard…
Let’s recap challenges often faced when struggling to forgive someone who has hurt you. First, forgiveness is widely misunderstood. When we don’t fully understand what forgiveness is and is not, it will only make it more difficult to move forward with forgiveness. Second, it’s common to view other people’s sins as too big to forgive. This leads us to categorizing other people’s offenses as forgivable or unforgivable. And finally once bitterness and resentment takes root, forgiveness becomes more difficult.
Why is forgiveness so hard for you? Leave a comment or encourage someone else!