Nov 1, 2018

Forgiveness: It Can Be Messy (Part II of III)

By Katy Cloninger

As stated in Part I of this series on forgiveness, our fallen nature means that we are constantly sinning against one another and constantly needing to forgive each other. Sometimes forgiveness is easy when the offense is not severe, but other times, when we have been hurt deeply, forgiveness is much harder. Whether your spouse has left you (as in my case), or some other injury has occurred, forgiveness is a necessary part of living as redeemed people in a fallen world.

In today’s post, we’ll look at three more truths about forgiveness that can help us put our pain in perspective and bring us to the point of forgiving the one who hurt us.

1. You do not have to be completely healed emotionally in order to forgive. In fact, forgiving our offenders will actually help us heal. Because we are sinners and our hearts are hard, we may have to do some healing first before we soften up enough to forgive from our hearts. But we should not try to wait until we have fully healed before we forgive. If we do that, complete healing may never come, and the wound will get more and more infected. 
Forgiveness is a lot like childbirth. It takes some emotional labor to give birth to forgiveness, and the intensity of the pain may wax and wane as contractions do. But just when we think we will never get through it, we are, with the help of God, finally delivered of this burden, and we begin to feel relief, then joy, now that most of the pain is gone. All that remains at this point is the afterbirth—releasing whatever is left of our bitterness, and anything that was feeding our resentment—and then our healing will proceed apace. 
2. Forgiveness is not necessarily a once-and-done deal. When someone has hurt us deeply, particularly someone we must continue to deal with frequently, there may be times we feel that we have forgiven the person or are close to doing so, only to have a memory resurface or a new offense occur that leaves us reeling in pain and anger again. 
This has been my experience. Part of the solution is to recognize that, as we discussed in Part I, forgiveness is not a feeling. Sometimes we may feel forgiving, but we haven’t done all the cognitive work of acknowledging each source of hurt, accepting that it is in the past and cannot be changed, and then giving it up to God. This process often requires hard work over time, not just spontaneously feeling a certain way. 
And of course, if new wounds are being inflicted on us, there will be new offenses to forgive. If we haven’t yet forgiven the initial offense, subsequent ones will be even harder to forgive. However, the more we make up our minds to forgive and let God work in our hearts, the less deeply the new offenses will hurt us. 
Forgiveness is a decision we must walk in every day—and while we are still learning to walk, it may look more like limping or crawling! Each day, we ask God to purify our hearts, commend our offender to Him, and commit ourselves to forgiving the offender. For us hard-hearted sinners, the path to full forgiveness can be a long and winding one, and like love, it takes ongoing effort and determination. (Hmm, could this have something to do with loving our enemies?) 
 3. Realize that some of your anger may actually be directed at yourself. Consciously or unconsciously, we may be ashamed and furious with ourselves for whatever part we played, wittingly or unwittingly, in allowing ourselves to be betrayed, deceived, or put in a position to be harmed. Perhaps we feel that if we are angry enough at ourselves and can punish ourselves enough, we can atone for or even undo our part in the situation. 
At the same time, we may also take that anger and project it onto the person who harmed us. But this is not fair to our offender. That person likely has enough guilt and blame of his own without having ours tacked onto it. 
We must realize that it’s impossible to atone for our own sins by maintaining anger at ourselves. Jesus Christ, the spotless Lamb of God, bore the full wrath of God for all of our sins, including whatever sins we may have committed leading up to the injury against us. We must therefore receive His gift of forgiveness and stop beating ourselves up. Self-flagellation is redundant; Christ has already been beaten up in our place. 
Of course, the next thing to realize is that Christ also bore the punishment for our offender’s sin. But we may have to deal with our own sins and forgiveness first. 

The truths we’ve just considered may take some time to process. We need God’s own almighty aid in order to do what He requires and desires for us as His children. We must keep in mind that forgiveness is freedom, while refusing to forgive is slavery to the past and gives the devil a foothold in our hearts. God wants us to walk in freedom. We must trust that He has our good in mind when He tells us to forgive.

In Part III, we will get to the really good stuff: how the means of grace and the life of the Church can help us heal and forgive those who trespass against us.


Katy is a sister, daughter, and mother, as well as a freelance copyeditor and a member of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church (LCMS) in Columbia, SC. She has a BA in English from Newberry College, loves studying theology and teaching it to her son, and is currently enrolled in the school of hard knocks.

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