By Kaleigh Ward
Sometimes, my morning quiet time consists of doing a Bible Study workbook (woo Beth Moore!), reading the Psalms, listening to a sermon, or journaling about God’s faithfulness.
This morning, my quiet time was a time of wrestling with God. Sometimes, when I’m hurting and confused, God and I have to spend extra time together as He quiets my soul, opens my eyes and ears, and changes my heart.
The topic of today’s lesson? Forgiveness. (Insert groan here.) Forgiveness is just one of those things we donot like learning about. It ranks up there with “patience” and “joy in suffering.” We don’t mind reading a verse from time to time, but please-oh-please don’t make us learn this in a hands-on fashion!
As I sat down to talk to God this morning, I immediately cried. Someone I love has experienced hurt and rejection and I was carrying a lot of anger, bitterness and unforgiveness towards those who had caused that pain.
I knew before I even sat down that I needed to forgive, but I had no idea how I was going to get there.
I said, “God, I don’t want to forgive them yet because they don’t even seem to know and care what they’ve done.”
Holy Spirit reminded me of Luke 23:34. As Jesus hung on the cross, He prayed,
“Lord, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
I didn’t want to forgive because the guilty parties didn’t understand what they had done. Jesus forgave because the guilty parties didn’t understand what they had done.
I said, “I don’t want to forgive because I am still hurting.” The Holy Spirit reminded me that Jesus forgave in the midst of His pain– while still hanging on the cross to which the guilty parties had unjustly nailed Him.
I was immediately struck with an awe for Jesus’ capacity to forgive. The things which I used to defend my unforgiving spirit were the very things Jesus used as motivation to forgive. The guilty did not understand and care what they had done. They were still in the process of hurting Him. And yet He forgave.
As I looked at these truths, I was amazed at the depth of Jesus’ mercy, the glory of His compassion. But I was also overwhelmed and began to despair because how on earth would I ever be able to forgive like that?
I knew that forgiveness was a command. In Matthew 6:15, Jesus promised,
“If you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
There is no wiggle room. There are no loopholes. Forgiveness is required.
Everything in me screamed, “Don’t forgive them! Then, there will be no justice! Hurt them back. Make sure they know the extent of what they’ve done. Make them feel the pain they’ve caused. It’s only fair. Then, maybe you can forgive them because everything will be even.”
I continued my quiet time by looking up sermons and writings on forgiveness. In one sermon, a pastor taught on what forgiveness is not.
1. Forgiveness is not approving or diminishing sin.
2. Forgiveness is not enabling sin.
3. Forgiveness is not denying a wrongdoing.
4. Forgiveness is not waiting for an apology.
5. Forgiveness is not forgetting.
6. Forgiveness is not ceasing to feel the pain.
7. Forgiveness is not a one-time event.
8. Forgiveness is not neglecting justice.
9. Forgiveness is not trusting.
10. Forgiveness is not reconciliation. (Reconciliation takes two.)
I was encouraged by the fact that forgiveness didn’t mean pretending no wrong had been committed or acting as if I wasn’t hurt at all.
But something in me didn’t believe that forgiveness was not neglecting justice.
See, I know that in Romans 12:19, Paul writes,
“Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.”
This is all well and good if I’m wanting to avenge evil people. But what about when I want to get back at other believers? God has forgiven their sins, so He isn’t going to repay them! If I don’t get back at them for what they’ve done, no one ever will!
My flesh was still fighting, saying, “Don’t forgive. There will be no justice if you do!”
Forgiveness seemed impossible. As I kept researching forgiveness, I came across a blog about forgiving being enabled by the Holy Spirit, not achieved by sheer force of will. One commenter shared Luke 18:27, which says, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”
With that, I left the table, stretched out on the living room floor, and prayed:
God, this seems impossible. I can’t will myself to forgive these people. How do I do this? Help me.
As I laid there, Holy Spirit reminded me of Luke 7:47. Jesus said that when we are forgiven little, we love little, but when we are forgiven much, we love much. Holy Spirit showed me that I was having a hard time forgiving others for the sin of rejection because I didn’t believe I had ever been guilty of (and forgiven for) that sin myself.
As I laid there, it was easy to recall a list of names of people whom I felt had rejected me. But I wasn’t nearly as quick to recall my own sins of rejection. I asked Holy Spirit to begin showing me times I had rejected others.
And slowly and gently, He did. I have been guilty of rejecting non-believers and believers alike. In every case, God had forgiven me. In some of those cases, those I had rejected had forgiven me as well.
And as I saw that truth, my eyes were suddenly opened to a really big revelation.
Forgiveness does not neglect justice because forgiveness is the only just response.
Do you remember the parable of the unmerciful servant? In it, a man owed the king 10,000 bags of gold. The man was about to be sold into slavery for the debt, but when he begged for mercy, the king canceled every last penny. Then, as the man left the king’s court, his servant approached who owed him 100 silver coins. The servant begged for mercy, but the man threw him into prison for his debt. When the king heard of the man’s behavior, he was outraged and gave the man over to the jailers to be tortured until he repaid everything he owed.
See, the only just response the man could have had would have been to forgive his servant’s debts as his own had been forgiven.
Once you are forgiven for wronging others, the only just move you can make is to then forgive the ones who have wronged you.
I was clinging to unforgiveness in the name of justice when my unforgiveness was actually a betrayal of the justice I claimed to defend!
Furthermore, God offered clarity on the whole “But they’re Christians and won’t be repaid for their wrongs since you forgave them and all” complaint I had. He said, “Yes, the sins they committed demand payment and vengeance. And when Jesus died on the cross and they accepted His sacrifice, that debt was paid. Their sin is not ignored. It is paid for. Look to the cross. The same blood that covered your sins covered theirs. Is my son’s blood not enough payment for you to forgive their sins? It was enough for me to forgive yours.”
And as I rose from the floor with these new revelations in mind, I understood: I could forgive. It would not mean the wrongs weren’t committed. It would not mean the hurts weren’t real. But only forgiveness could bring justice– because my sins were already forgiven and because their sins have been paid for by the blood of God Himself.
Today, I learned that:
1. Forgiveness is not optional.
2. Forgiveness is not possible in my own strength and willpower.
3. What is impossible in my flesh is possible with God.
4. When I surrender my inability to obey to Holy Spirit, He will work in me and bring me to a place where I can obey through His power.
5. When I ask God to show me my sinful past, He can gently open my eyes to the depth of the grace I’ve been given.
6. When I come face to face with the grace I’ve received, I will then see that I truly can extend that grace to others as well.
7. The blood that covers my sins was enough to satisfy God’s call for justice. The blood that covers the sins of those believers who hurt me is enough to cover my call for justice as well.
8. Forgiveness does not neglect justice. Justice demands forgiveness.
What about you? Who are you struggling to forgive? If you are stewing in bitterness but don’t understand how you could ever forgive the sins committed against you, spend some time with Jesus. You can never reach a place of forgiveness on your own, but with His help, you can be free of your anger. If you ask Him to, He will patiently teach you about forgiveness– His forgiveness towards you and how you can forgive others so that you can be free of the hurt and bitterness.
Are you longing for the power to walk in the freedom of forgiveness? Then, seek the One who can empower you to do just that.
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you shall find; knock and the door will be opened unto you.” Matthew 7:7
My good friend Kaleigh is preparing to go on The World Race, a mission trip to 11 countries in 11 months, this fall. Check back for updates on her preparations, as well as updates from around the world over the next year! Follow Kaleigh’s World Race Blog.— Tiffany