Forgiveness is a process that involves at least two people, one who has injured the other in some way. This injury may be minor, but it can also be a major offense, such as trauma or abuse. In a perfect world, forgiving others is a process whereby the offender repents of their harmful ways and apologizes, the injured person forgives the offender, and there is a restored relationship between the two people at the end.
Unfortunately, this world is far from perfect. It can be very hard to forgive those who have hurt you deeply, and the offender might be unrepentant and refuse to acknowledge any wrongdoing.
Does this mean that we should just give up on forgiveness?
No. As we shall see, there are some very good reasons to pursue forgiveness against those who have wronged us, even if the offender is unrepentant. Relationship restoration may not be possible, but we can still work to forgive them within our own hearts.
Luke 6:27-28 says that we are to love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, bless those who curse us and pray for those who mistreat us. Working to forgive those who have hurt us is one of the ways we can fulfill this verse. And if they do repent later, we can be ready to extend forgiveness to them.
Forgiving others is hard
You might be thinking, “You make it sound so easy.” But, of course, it isn’t. Forgiving others can be one of the hardest things to do. We can be very deeply hurt by the actions and words of others, both emotionally and physically, and bear the consequences of that hurt for many years or even the rest of our lives.
Forgiveness often requires a significant investment of time and hard work. But despite being so hard at times, forgiving others is vitally important and the benefits of doing so are immeasurable. This article explores three reasons why forgiveness is important. These reasons are interrelated, but each have their own particular emphasis.
Three Reasons Why Forgiving Others is So Important
1. Forgiving others is part of our obedience to God
The first reason we should forgive others is that God has commanded us to do so. Scripture is full of calls by God to forgive others because He has forgiven us first. A clear example is the Lord’s Prayer, where Jesus points not only to our need for forgiveness, but also the requirement to forgive others: “And forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12)
Jesus goes on after the Lord’s Prayer to highlight how important it is for us to forgive: “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15)
The command for us as Christians is to be like God. God forgives us when we sin against Him and so we need to do likewise to those who have sinned against us, whether we feel they deserve our forgiveness or not. Luke 6:35 tells us that God is “kind to the ungrateful and wicked,” referring to all humanity’s natural state.
Our forgiveness by God is not based on our deserving, and so our forgiveness of others cannot be based on their deserving. A failure to pursue forgiveness is a failure to obey God. We are, in essence, placing ourselves in God’s place and deciding who we will or won’t forgive. It is not our place to withhold forgiveness.
This call to obedience, however, does not in any way minimize the real pain and hurt that some people have suffered, or the very real consequences that they continue to suffer as a result of trauma, abuse, or relational breakdown. It is also not to say that forgiveness is easy or quickly achieved.
Forgiveness is often a process, whereby over time a person can slowly forgive in greater measure as they consistently bring the matter before God. This is often hard to do on our own. A counselor can also be a wonderful resource to help us work through the cycles of forgiveness, as they are not emotionally invested in the situation and can us give a broader perspective.
2. A lack of forgiveness can harm us
The second reason we should forgive others is that God loves us and knows what’s best for us. He knows that a lack of forgiveness can cause real harm to us – spiritually, emotionally, and physically – and wants to protect us from those consequences. His command to us to forgive is not just for our holiness, but also for our protection.
Over time, a lack of forgiveness can slowly poison our hearts and minds. It is like having a wound that is never allowed to heal, but leaks toxins into our body. Unforgiveness cannot remain contained in a box; it will always affect us. This is because unforgiveness often fosters bitterness and resentment, which can affect all aspects of our personality. It can make us anxious, fearful, and rob us of joy.
It can also often lead to further sin as a way of coping with the hurt and bitterness, such as anger, vengeance, and self-pity. This affects not only us, but it also has an impact on our relationships with others. Unforgiveness means we can be hurt twice – first by the original offense, and then by the impact of unforgiveness on our lives and relationships.
Unforgiveness can also result in physical consequences. Cortisol, a stress hormone, is released when we are consistently anxious, fearful, or angry. Continuous, high levels of cortisol have been linked to diseases such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and even possibly cancer.
3. Forgiving others deepens our relationship with God and gives us peace
The third reason we should forgive others is that it helps to deepen our relationship with God and experience the peace that only He can give. Refusing to forgive others impedes our relationship with God because it is a refusal to obey Him. David describes this in Psalm 32: “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.” (v. 3-4)However, when David acknowledged his sin, he was released from that relational barrier and his relationship with God was characterized by joy: “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD.’ And you forgave the guilt of my sin… Rejoice in the LORD and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart!” (v. 5, 11)
Acknowledging to God the need to forgive someone can allow joy to flow back in again. We can have peace, knowing that we are doing what pleases God.
Forgiving others gives us a small glimpse into God’s forgiveness of our sins. The hard work we need to put in to forgive others can help us marvel anew at God’s immense grace in completely forgiving all our sins. What a Savior we have in Jesus! Jesus enables both peace with God as well as having the peace of God.
The wound may never fully heal; the offender may never repent; the pain may never fully go away. But God is with you and can give you peace – not the false peace of “just forget about it and move on,” but the real peace of knowing that He has us in His hand and will never let us go.
Forgiving others also helps us to rest more in God’s sovereignty. God has promised to work all things for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:30), even our pain and suffering. He can redeem our pain for His glory and our good. And one day He will end all pain and suffering. We might not always understand why we experience what we do, but we know who is in control and can rest securely in Him.
Christian Counseling for Relationship Issues
If you’re struggling to forgive someone who has hurt you, or you’re having a hard time overcoming other difficult relationship issues, I invite you to schedule an appointment with me or one of the other counselors in the online counselor directory. We would be happy to help you resolve the relationship issues you’re having so you can experience joy and peace with God’s help.
“Broken Road”, Courtesy of Coin Lloyd, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Bright Candle”, Courtesy of Mercedes Bosquet, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Milky Way”, Courtesy of Khamkeo Vilaysing, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “New Life”, Courtesy of Jeremy Bishop, Unsplash.com; CC0 License