I was counseling someone recently about forgiveness and seeking reconciliation, and I couldn’t help but start thinking about some of the stupid things I have done in the past, all the horribly immature and petty things done out of pain, heartache, and bitterness. I began to think about how in some instances, I never really apologized to those I hurt or had an opportunity of reconciliation in some of my past relationships…
I have no excuse for any of my past hurtful actions. I am ashamed and embarrassed of the way I have treated some people; even people I loved, because none of how I treated them, was ever a display of that love. Any good memories there once were of some things, well, I tarnished those with spiteful and childish actions.
I’ve had to work through many of my own heart issues and come to the painful realization that in every bit of the bitterness and pain I felt towards some people, well, it was actually me who was the root-cause. The real issue and problem stemmed from my own selfish and prideful heart (Matthew 6:12-15, Luke 17:3-4). I could not continue to blame anyone else for my actions.
“If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month.” – Teddy Roosevelt
The line between all that I was and all that I hated has been thinner than I’ve ever wanted to believe or acknowledge. Eventually I realized that I could not stay angry, bitter, or resentful towards someone unless I felt superior to them (2nd Corinthians 2:5-11). Because there is no bitterness without pride. I lied to myself, believing I would never do anything like what others had done to hurt me. But if one struggles with anger and bitterness, it is because pride is at the root of it. My own pride made me the fool and robbed me of more joy than any wrong that had ever been done to me. I’m sorry for those I’ve hurt in the past that it took me treating some people so poorly, hurting them, upsetting friends and family, and causing so many problems as the consequences of my own foolishness. It can be quite embarrassing how long it has taken me sometimes to begin to really be convicted about my pride and figure some things out.
Rather than learning many of these lessons from watching others or reading a book, my stubborn self has had to learn by painful experience that false conviction is a reflex reaction caused by self-disgust, a sorrow over the consequences of sin. True conviction is an abiding sorrow over the offence against God, and while not the natural response, it does demonstrate that God has begun a good work that He will complete (Philippians 1:6). True conviction is followed by true repentance. False conviction is followed by counterfeit repentance that only sees and fears the consequences of sin and the pain it causes others. Often this leads to a temporary change in behavior without a heart change.
“Teach me to feel another’s woe, to hide the fault I see, that mercy I show to others, that mercy show to me.” – Alexander Pope
When we begin to grasp that we are unworthy sinners saved by an infinitely costly grace, it destroys both our self-righteousness and our need to ridicule others. God has modeled perfect forgiveness for us. Despite the magnitude of our offense against Him, God does not forget in order to forgive. He forgives in spite of our sin.
If we are ever to learn to truly forgive we must learn it from God. This means we must be forgiven first by accepting the forgiveness extended to us in Christ (Ephesians 1:7, 2:4-10, Colossians 1:14, 2:13, 3:13). As forgiven children, we are not required to forget the wrongs against us. Believers can forgive in the midst of pain because we have been forgiven much. We are set free from the bondage of unforgiveness and the slavery of bitterness in order to extend the life-giving freedom of compassion (Hebrews 10:18). We remember the grace shown to us and extend that same grace to others.
“Everyone wants judgement when it’s not their own foolishness being revealed. Praise Christ for grace in foolish moments and mercy for consistent failures.”
Practically, this may take time, and that is okay. We are often wronged in deeply painful ways. So be true and real. When you are hurting, hurt. But in the hurt and suffering, seek to understand that there is coming a day when all suffering will be removed, and you will be made whole. You have refuge in the only truly innocent sufferer, Jesus Christ, who is understanding and sympathetic to your pain. Because, when the Gospel and the cross are viewed correctly and understood, it will lead not to you standing next to the cross and telling others to get right, but we will instead find ourselves kneeling on the ground at the cross telling others there is room.
So forgive, not to the degree to which you forget, but to the degree to which you realize you have been forgiven much. As one made in the image of Christ, extend the same kind of forgiveness you have received. Because God’s grace came into your hands free of charge to you, we are to redistribute it the same way.
“Forgiveness isn’t an end in itself. The point of forgiveness is to remove the barrier that stands between us and God so that He can give us His Spirit and bring us into His everlasting family.” – Darrell Bock
As for any of you reading this that might be thinking, “Alright, I get it, I’ve been able to forgive others who have hurt me, but I’m still really struggling to forgive myself for some of the terrible things I’ve done. We need to realize that when we say, “I know God forgives me, but I can’t forgive myself,” what we really mean is that we have failed an idol, whose approval is more important to us than God’s. We should remember the words of the apostle John in the book 1st John 1:9, as well as the wise words of C.S. Lewis here, in that: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.”