A lot has happened lately that has caused me to really question this act called forgiveness. What exactly is forgiveness? People offer counsel to the hurting, encouraging them to forgive and forget but really what is forgiveness? Is forgiveness something that should be done within one's self or is there a need for the both parties to come together and try to iron out differences? From close observation, research and personal experience, I've come to understand that we are not really acting according to the Word of God. I'm choosing to share with you the understanding I got from the whole thing so that we can all learn a thing or two and apply it.
You all will agree with me that forgiveness is something that is hard to do especially when you feel justified in your anger. We all have things that we don't like to be done to us. However, as we all know, offence will come. People will always cross boundaries either intentionally or unintentionally. It's in our nature as human beings to sometimes not care about how our actions affect the other person. So what do you do when you find yourself struggling with unforgiveness? What should you do when the person who hurt you has refused to apologise because in their own way, they feel you should be the one doing the apologising?
Most people would argue that if someone offends you, the person has to say sorry in order to receive forgiveness. But what if the person never says sorry? Isn't that you putting your peace at the mercy of someone else? That means there will be always be this uneasiness whenever you are around that person and no matter how hard you try to shake it off by telling yourself and others that you aren't bearing grudges against that person, deep down you know things are not the same anymore. Jesus Christ has a very serious approach to the matter and I'm going to use His words exactly. They are what I choose to call forgiveness ethics.
“If you forgive others for the wrongs they do to you, then your Father in heaven will also forgive your wrongs. But if you don’t forgive others, then your Father in heaven will not forgive the wrongs you do.” Matthew 6:14-15 ERV
These are not my words but Jesus’ and since we ought to become like Jesus while we are here on Earth, it means you have to put your “justified” anger aside and just make peace. Forgiveness is not a feeling. It's a choice to let go of the anger welling up inside of you or the pain, allowing that experience shape you into the kind of person God wants you to be. And trust me, it's not an easy thing to do especially if the person is someone you really expected more from.
One of the part of the Bible the Holy Spirit has used to convict me severally is this Word.
“So, what if you are offering your gift at the altar and remember that someone has something against you? Leave your gift there and go make peace with that person. Then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:23-24 ERV.
If you are in church every now and then lifting Holy Hands, dropping offering and seeds, yet you have withheld forgiveness from your friend who hurt you, you are sinning against God. Anger has a way of clouding our sense of judgement at the time of the event. I've found that when I'm angry, I don't reason past my hurt feelings. I focus so much on what the other person did wrong to me and the more I keep recounting the experience to those who ask me what happened, the angrier and more justified I feel. However when the whole highness of the emotions come down, I start to feel guilty about the things I said. That's usually how I know the Holy Spirit wasn't too pleased with how I handled the whole situation. So I'm pushed to ask Him why I feel guilty and He starts to show me where I got it wrong. As a human being, I'd argue and say the person deserved it but one thing I love about the Holy Spirit is that if you are willing to listen, He will correct you, showing you where you got it wrong, how to make it right and how to keep it from happening next time. That is how we grow.
We all learn everyday and I'd like to use this bible verse to teach us something. Jesus said this in Matthew 18:15,
If your brother wrongs you, go and show him his fault, between you and him privately. If he listens to you, you have won back your brother.
When someone offends you, the first thing that comes to mind is hurt. You wonder why the person will act towards you in that manner. Then you feel like just sharing with someone just to make yourself feel better or perhaps try to get them to see how unfair the offender has been to you. It's even worse when they don't apologise. But let me ask you this, is telling everyone about it really a wise choice? What Jesus was saying is this: if someone offends you, don't sit around brooding over what they did to you. Neither should you go about telling others about it. It won't do you or that person any good. Rather, wait till you feel you are calm enough to reason out things with the person then call that person's attention to how they hurt you. Sometimes, it's best to find out the reason for their actions because it could all be a misunderstanding. Everyone had their own idea of what they think is right, some of these beliefs are born either out of their background or life's experience. Either way, the best way to show them their faults is not to focus on how hurt you are but to trust God to help you settle things with them peacefully no matter how justified you feel.
However in some cases, pride gets the best of most people. If you have tried to peacefully resolve this issue with them privately and they refuse to listen, this is not the time to say “it's their own business” or scream “I don't care what happens”. What you must do as a child of God is to obey Jesus. Jesus said,
But if they refuse to listen, go to them again and take one or two people with you. Then there will be two or three people who will be able to tell all that happened. If they refuse to listen to them, tell the church. And if they refuse to listen to the church, treat them as you would treat someone who does not know God or who is a tax collector [Matthew 18:16-17 ERV].
The only time you are permitted to completely cut someone off is if you have done as Jesus instructed and they still refuse to forgive you. Telling others about it and expecting them to relay your message to the person you had a disagreement with, is not the way to pursue peace. Remember that in your relationship with people, your first priority is to pursue peace and to help them wrong. Bitterness, malice and unresolved anger doesn't give space for love to grow. They are like weeds constantly competing for space in your heart.
Forgive so that you can keep being in fellowship with God. You have every right to get angry but when your anger becomes a stumbling block in your relationship with God then check it. It has become an idol. Forgiveness is a 2-way thing and if it's withheld from one party, the other cannot receive forgiveness. Why put yourself at the mercy of others by withholding forgiveness? As long as you do not forgive your friend who hurt you [whether they are at fault or you are], you cannot receive forgiveness from God. Is that really the way you want to miss out on the most important thing here on Earth because of your hurt feelings? I know it's painful to be betrayed by a friend or have a friend be insensitive to your needs but the truth is that love is practical. We can't just read the scriptures and not abide by what we see. It's clearly written that to receive from God, you must first clear your own table. Clear the table of your heart of anger, hurt etc. The devil leverages on that hurt and makes us assume letting go of that hurt is a sign of weakness but it really isn't. It is strength under control. You cannot say you love God, lifting holy hands when it is obvious that you are having grudges against your neighbor. Until you have been comforted by the Holy Spirit and have an evidence of peace that surpasses all understanding, you cannot fully understand God's instruction or even see a need to obey this message coming to you today. Let Jesus comfort you.
Let me conclude with this. The words of people can only give you temporary comfort. Only the Holy Spirit speaking through someone can give you true comfort and a solution. That should be your first place of contact. Sort out your issues with God first else you leave your heart unguarded and susceptible to external influences which is usually negative. Hannah understood that Elkanah would only take her side against Penniel but that act wouldn't meet the deepest desire of her heart so she took her worries right God. Elkanah would have taken her side and defended her but God gave her comfort and an answer to her needs. People sympathizing with you isn't what you need. In fact, the same people who sympathize with you will shift affection to the other person especially if that person has a more sympathetic version of events. Don't allow someone's offence cost you your peace, joy and possibly your place in God's kingdom. Offence will come but how you respond to it matters. I pray for the grace to forgive and let go. I pray that God gives you peace in your heart and teach you to be at peace with everyone. Amen