The Healing Power of Forgiveness
How many think people in general are weird? Now, how many think others are weirder than you? Now, in my almost 70 years of life, one of the things I’ve learned is that we’re all weird, and a little bit odd at times, or for some, most of the time. And the reason is that within us all there’s an inner wierdo.
This is why we have a hard time with relationships, not only with others, but with God. Fortunately for us, God understands that we’re all relationally challenged, not only with others, but with Him. And this has been the way from the beginning.
• Cain, older brother of Able, got jealous because God accepted Able’s sacrifice while rejecting his. So, Cain murders his brother and also his relationship with God.
• And then there’s Noah. He gets so drunk that he passes out naked in front of his kids. Now, that’s really not something you’d see in Sunday’s school flannel graph lesson.
• Abraham ended up playing favorites between his two boys, Jacob and Esau, resulting in a bitter rival that has lasted to this very day.
• And Jacob never learned this lesson and ended up doing the same with his son, Joseph. So much to that his brothers got so jealous that they sold him into slavery, and then told their father that a lion ate him.
Now, I hope you noticed that I haven’t even gotten out of the book of Genesis. But I think what we’ve seen in these examples is a little bit Sunday School, Survivor, and for those who remember, Jerry Springer.
This is probably the main reason why I’d like to talk about the healing power of forgiveness. Some have even called forgiveness, life’s antibiotic.
There is also a truism that I have found in my 25 plus years of pastoring, and that is … “The happiest people are not the most forgetting; rather they are the most forgiving.”
Every one of us are going to be hurt by someone. It may be a co-worker’s grudge, or a parent’s broken promise. It may be a spouse’s unfaithfulness, or a stranger’s resentment. Or it may be a friend’s careless words or unkind act.
Sometimes these hurts are verbal, like the hurtful names others call us, or non-verbal, like when someone turns their back on us. It may also be physical in nature like abuse.
And so, we all carry around deep and painful wounds that defy others or even our own ability to cure. But there is a cure, and that is forgiveness, because forgiveness brings God’s healing to our body, our soul, and to our spirits.
But before we talk about what forgiveness entails, there are some basic truths about forgiveness that I think we all need to understand, that is, what forgiveness both is and isn’t.
Forgiveness is Unconditional
Forgiveness isn’t about “I’ll forgive you if you do this or that for me.” Whenever we attach conditions to forgiveness it’s no longer forgiveness; rather it’s a favor. Real forgiveness is unconditional, that is, it places no conditions in order to forgive someone.
Forgiveness also isn’t something that is earned, nor is it deserved. Consider Jesus! When Jesus forgave us it was based solely on His love of us, not whether we deserved it. On the cross He cried out, “Father, forgive them, because they haven’t got a clue as to what they are doing!” (Luke 23:34 paraphrased)
We never asked to be forgiven, we weren’t even there or alive, but Jesus offered forgiveness, nonetheless. He took the initiative and forgave, which is what we need to do.
Forgiveness Deals Directly with the Offense
Forgiveness doesn’t pretend like the offense never occurred, so let’s stop saying that it’s okay and no big deal. Whenever we don’t deal with the offense it cheapens what forgiveness is all about.
Also, when we don’t deal with the offense, we end up hurting ourselves and others, and that’s because we never accept accountability for our actions, nor do we hold other people accountable for theirs, which leads to the possibility we, or those who hurt us, will in the same manner hurt someone else.
Forgiveness Doesn’t Immediately Restore Trust
The Bible tells us we need to forgive, but it doesn’t say that trust is to be immediately restored. Forgiveness doesn’t mean placing ourselves back in harm’s way.
And if we hurt someone, we shouldn’t expect them to trust us immediately as well. We say, “Since God’s forgiven me, then why can’t they?” or “If they said they forgave me, then why can’t things go back to the way they were?” I’ll get to that question in the next point.
Rebuilding trust takes time. And for trust to be restored, it will take a quality proven measure over an extended period of time. It’s called building back trust.
Forgiveness Means Changes
Forgiveness means that changes will take place and are necessary. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that things are going to be the way they were, which is what led up to the offense in the first place. Once harm has been done, things will never return to normal, so a new normal is necessitated.
Think of it like this; if you lost an arm, life will never be as it once was. We’ll never get back to a normal life like we had with two arms. Instead, a new normal will develop, one that is lived with one arm instead of two.
Forgiveness is then the starting point for changes to take place which will then bring about a new beginning and a new normal.
Forgiveness Isn’t Forgetting
To forgive and forget is unrealistic. Forgiveness isn’t forgetting the offense; rather it’s choosing to no longer remember the offense against the other person.
1 Corinthians 13:5 says, “Love keeps no record of wrongs.” When someone wrongs us; instead of writing it down to use against them, forgiveness chooses to no longer keep it stored up inside for future use.
Now that we have established what forgiveness is and isn’t, let’s take a look at the reasons.
Why We Need To Forgive
Because of God’s Forgiveness
Because God has forgiven us, we then need to forgive others. That’s what at the heart of what the Apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:32.
“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32 NIV)
How much has God forgiven us? How about all the sin and bad stuff we’ve ever done, past, present, and future. And when we add to this the fact that Jesus went to the cross and died one of the most horrific deaths ever devised by humanity so our sins can be forgiven, there really isn’t anything that should be beyond the scope of our forgiveness of others.
Further, just as God has forgiven us, we dare not withhold forgiveness from others, not if we want God to forgive us. Consider the prayer Jesus taught us to pray known as the Lord’s prayer.
In that prayer He said, “And forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.” (Matthew 6:12 NLT)
Think about what we just prayed. We’re actually saying, “Lord, I want you to forgive me as much as I forgive others.” Now there’s a scary thought. Do we really want God to forgive us in the same way we forgive others? I don’t think so, because we don’t forgive others all that well, but still that is what God requires.
And here’s something that will help us forgive others, and that is, we’ll never forgive anyone more than what God has forgiven us for.
Envision two piles of offenses. One of those piles are all the things others have done to us, and the other pile is all the offenses we’ve committed against God. When we look at them side by side there really isn’t any comparison. Our offenses against God soar as high as the Empire State building and beyond, while the offenses others have done against us barely reach the top of our heads.
Because Resentment is Worthless
The second reason we need to forgive is because holding onto resentment and bitterness isn’t worth the time or effort. In fact, it’s counterproductive.
“To worry yourself to death with resentment would be a foolish, senseless thing to do.” (Job 5:2 LB)
Throughout the Bible we can find story and story that illustrates this, but the one story that sticks out the most for me comes from the life of David. David was running for his life from His son, Absalom, who rebelled and secured an army in order to wipe out his father. So, David left Jerusalem.
On his way out of town a man named Shimei, from the line of King Saul, King David’s predecessor, started to curse David saying that David was getting what he deserved. Seeing and hearing Shimei’s contemptible attitude and language, some of David’s men wanted to kill Shimei, but David forbids them and continued on his way.
Shimei didn’t like David becoming king while Saul’s family became outcasts. Shimei’s bitterness and resentment continued to grow over the years and had now reached its ugly climax.
This story reveals several reasons why resentment isn’t worth it.
Resentment Doesn’t Make Sense
The first thing we see from our story is that holding onto resentment is illogical. It just doesn’t make sense. Here is Shimei cursing at David and his entire army. Talk about a no brainer.
But haven’t we done the same thing in our anger? Essentially, we cut our own throats to spite our faces. Anger never solves a problem; instead, it escalates and causes more problems.
Choosing forgiveness, however, means that we would rather move forward in life rather than stay stuck in the vicious cycle of hatred and bitterness while trying to get even.
David could have chosen to have Shimei killed, but instead he chose to move on. And in that instant, David knew the freedom forgiveness can bring, rather than the rut resentment keeps us in.
Resentment Doesn’t Help
Solomon tells us that anger is a fool’s best friend (Ecclesiastes 7:9). Shimei held onto this grudge for over 20 years, and it didn’t help him one bit. All it did was make Shimei a miserable person to be around.
Holding onto resentment paralyzes us, hurting us more than the person we’re resenting. David wasn’t pining away for all those years because Shimei held a grudge against him. David probably didn’t even know about it.
Please understand, the people we are resenting aren’t sitting at home worried about our feelings. Ten-to-one they don’t even know we’re feeling that way. And while we put our lives on hold due to our resentment, they’re out having a good time.
Resentment is Deadly
Resentment is deadly, because Shimei eventually lost his life because of it.
While resentment may not kill us outright, it is deadly to our wellbeing. Study after study confirms that resentment may be one of the most dangerous emotions there is. It attacks our body like no virus ever could, and a lot of health issues are directly related to this deadly emotion.
Jesus said that it’s not about what goes into someone’s mouth that defiles them, but rather what comes out of the mouth in the way of words that reflect their true attitude (Matthew 15:11). Therefore, it’s not what we’re eating that’s getting us sick; rather it’s what’s eating us.
Resentment, therefore, is not worth it because it doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t help, and it is deadly to our wellbeing.
How to Forgive
To forgive others we first have to recognize that we’re all sinners. The Bible says that there’s not a single person who does good and does not sin (Ecclesiastes 7:20; Romans 3:10-12).
We also need to recognize not only how our sins hurt others and ourselves, but we need to consider just how much our sins hurt God. This was something King David knew all about in his sin of adultery with Bathsheba, not to mention the murder of her husband, Uriah, as a result of this sin.
King David in his prayer said to God, “Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight” (Psalm 51:4a NKJB).
Next, while we may have the right to get even, we need to give up that right, which is at the heart of true forgiveness. Further, we need to remember that forgiveness is not a one-time event, but rather it is a process.
When Peter asked Jesus how many times he was to forgive someone who wronged him, Jesus said, “Seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22). Jesus wasn’t saying we’re to forgive up to 490 times; rather He was saying that we need to forgive until the job is done.
How will we know when the job of forgiveness is done? It is when we remember the offense and it doesn’t eat our guts out.
When we release our right to get even, what we’re doing is giving God room to move into the situation and start making the wrong right. But also, the job of getting even belongs to God, not to us. The Lord said, “Vengeance is Mine; I will repay” (Deuteronomy 12:19).
We therefore need to release our right to get even to God and let Him handle it His way, not ours.
Further, we need to respond to the evil others perpetrate upon us with God’s good.
The Bible says that we’re not to repay evil with evil (Romans 12:17), and that we are to love our enemies and do good to those who hate and wrongly use us (Luke 6:27-28).
When does this happen? When we begin to pray for them, but not the type of prayer that says, “Lord, break the teeth in their mouth. Let the IRS seize all their assets, and may they be plagued with a case of perpetual hemorrhoids.”
Instead, we pray for their good, and that God will bless them and save them.
Finally, we need to keep our focus on God and off the situation or hurt. There is a truism that says whatever we focus upon will eventually control our lives. So, let’s focus on God and His purposes.
Now, before we conclude our time together, the one thing that I haven’t addressed is of our need to be forgiven, not only by others, but more importantly by God. And this all begins with our need to confess.
Forgiveness begins with confession
The Apostle John makes this clear. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9 NKJV)
But what does it mean to confess?
Webster’s Dictionary defines confession as telling or making known a wrong. But it actually goes much deeper. In Greek to confess means to speak the same thing. But the same thing as what? It means to speak the same thing God speaks by calling what we do by its real name. It’s calling sin what it is, sin.
It’s not calling homosexuality an alternative lifestyle. It’s not calling drunkenness going out and having a good time. It’s not calling fornication and adultery messing around.
If we want to continue in our spiritual transformation, we must make a choice. We can continue to conceal the truth of our sins, or we can confess them.
Solomon said, “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13 NIV)
King David understood these consequences and used himself as an example.
“When I refused to confess my sin, I was weak and miserable, and I groaned all day long. Day and night Your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat.” (Psalm 32:3-4 NLT)
Because King David refused to confess his sin, he was an emotional and physical mess. When he finally admitted his guilt and sought God, his guilt was removed.
King David also knew the joy that comes through confession.
“According to Your lovingkindness; according to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.” (Psalm 51:1b-3)
And then he asked, “Make me hear joy and gladness, that the bones You have broken may rejoice … Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit.” (Psalm 51:8, 12 NKJV)
And knowing the wonderful joy of confession David could then write, “What joy for those whose rebellion is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight! Yes, what joy for those whose record the Lord has cleared of sin.” (Psalm 32:1-2a)
Confessing our sins to God removes the guilt and shame attached to them, bringing healing, joy, and peace. But also, we need to confess our sins to each others, because God’s healing is also attached when we do.
Through the Apostle James and the Lord says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” (James 5:16 NIV)
Maybe today some of us have realized that we’ve been holding onto resentment and haven’t yet started the forgiveness process. Maybe we’ve also realized not only how much we’ve been hurt, but also how much we’ve hurt others.
If we want to be healed and whole, forgiveness is the only way. We need to give Jesus Christ control of our lives by releasing our anger and bitterness and forgive, because unless we forgive others their sins against us, just as Jesus said, God will not forgive our sins against Him.
And this I can guarantee, that our sins against God are far more and far greater than whatever someone else has done against us.
God’s forgiveness, therefore, is the best incentive we can have to forgive others.
Forgiveness brings health and wholeness back into our lives. Forgiveness brings us back into a full and meaningful life.
And finally, let’s confess our sins before our holy and righteous God and receive His forgiveness, followed by His healing, peace, and joy.
And finally, let’s confess our sins before our holy and righteous God and receive His forgiveness, followed by His healing, peace, and joy.
This then is the healing power of forgiveness.