Forgiveness is an essential part of being a Christian. It is so essential, that Jesus said in Matthew 6:15, “if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” This verse calls the genuineness of an unforgiving person’s salvation into question. Because believers in Jesus have been forgiven so much, for unforgiveness to persist in the heart of a believer is a telling sign. When Peter asked if forgiving someone seven times was enough, Jesus replied, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22). This isn’t some legalistic mathematical equation that limits our forgiveness to 490 times. Rather, it is meant as a metaphor that forgiveness is an ongoing process that should continue until your heart is settled on the matter. In other words, keep forgiving the person who has sinned against you until your heart has joined you in your actions.
How does this work practically? In Christian circles when you’ve been wounded two types of people tend to show up. The first kind of people are the ones who want to empathize. They’ve been hurt before, and they want to surround themselves with other wounded people. They are warm, receptive to your hurts and genuinely want to include you in their club for hurt people. The second kind of people is the ones who expect a strict and often quick adherence to the principle of not letting the sun go down on your anger. They come along side of you and compel you to conduct yourself Biblically and resolve the matter quickly. However, both of these people groups, while they may be well intentioned, pose a danger.
The first people group, the hurt people, may be the most seductive. Their empathy is a drug that can cause you to wallow in your hurt. They are often blind to their own mud, so they don’t realize that in trying to help others, they are only washing others in their own mire. When you’ve been hurt, beware of those who come to comfort you. With their soothing words, they will only addict you to their counsel, prolong your pain, and ultimately birth bitterness.
The second people group, the religious people, is equally damaging. Their drug is not empathy, but religious performance. They swoop in and compel you to obey the Word, which is not wrong in itself, but they want you to obey in ways and in terms that seem right to them instead of allowing the Holy Spirit to do his work. They will seem confused and bewildered when you don’t take their counsel in the way they prescribe. If you give in to their demands, the process of true reconciliation will be short circuited, and the false peace created will be short lived.
Forgiveness is not a formula. It is a process. It often involves periods of waiting. During that waiting, God is working. He is the one who restores. He is the one who reconciles. He is the one who mends. It is not our efforts. It is only His work. I think it is safe to say that when two people who truly love Jesus are at odds, in each of their hearts is a desire to reconcile and forgive. Allow the Holy Spirit to lead you through the emotional land mines. If you rush through, you’re likely going to cause more damage. Reconciliation is at His pace, not ours. He will guide you through the hurts and show you the truth of the matter at hand. Both the offender and the offended should wash themselves in the Word while they wait upon the Lord to mend. Both parties should take to heart David’s plea from Psalm 139:23-24.
“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (ESV)