This series was refined and enhanced to become Making Sense of Forgiveness, published by New Growth Press in 2021.

We have spent most of our series so far understanding the concept of forgiveness and reflecting on the implications of God’s forgiveness of us. We’ve mentioned forgiving others from time to time, but mostly by way of foreshadowing. This is where we turn the corner and focus on the gritty work of forgiving others.

Now we must grapple with the uncomfortable reality that no one deserves forgiveness and we never think it’s “a good time” to need to forgive. I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone say, “You know, I realized I haven’t been offended in a long time. I was praying that God would give me the opportunity to forgive again, so I wouldn’t get rusty at it. Thank you for [some expression of interpersonal offense].” If you think that way, you’re further down the sanctification highway than I am.

On top of that, the last significant thing the person you need forgive did towards you was wrong enough that Jesus had to die for it. Remember, we don’t forgive oopsies; we forgive sin. This person is not on a good streak in our life. That’s three strikes: (1) they don’t deserve forgiveness, (2) this isn’t a good time, and (3) the last thing they did was rotten. I’m three paragraphs in and we’re both in a bad mood.

That’s good. Because that’s where forgiveness happens, in a moody-angry-sulky funk. We all have our preferred flavor of funk, but funky is going to be our emotional climate when we need to forgive.[1]

We all have our preferred flavor of funk, but funky is going to be our emotional climate when we need to forgive. Click To Tweet

Believe it or not, this is actually a helpful realization. Sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking that doing the right thing will inherently feel good. While plausible, we quickly realize many of the most important right things we do don’t feel good. Telling the truth is often uncomfortable. Saving money is rarely pleasurable. Don’t even get me started on exercise. The emotional confirmation of having done the right thing often comes “later.”

When we realize this about forgiveness, we have removed one of the emotional obstacles. That doesn’t make the journey easy. But every 5 pound weight we can remove from the 100 pound load we’re carrying makes the journey easier. Thank you for persevering.

This image is also helpful, at least it helps us frame an important question – how much of the 100 pound load should come off when I get up the nerve to say the three little words, “I forgive you”?

Again, the answer will vary from person to person and situation to situation. Forgiving a boss in a bad work environment you can’t change is likely to create less relief than forgiving a friend who is remorseful for what they did.

Our motive for forgiving – as Christ forgave us – helps some here. We forgive primarily (sometimes exclusively) to honor Christ. The other person is merely the recipient of our obedience to God. We can delight in what we’re giving even if we are less than enthused about who we’re giving it to. It’s not ideal, but it may be where we are right now. That’s another 5 pound weight off our load.

What is another 5 pound weight that comes off when we forgive? Deliberation. When we make the decision to forgive, we can quit debating with ourselves. It often takes more cognitive airtime and emotional energy to not forgive than it does to forgive.

In that sense, forgiving is good emotional hygiene. Even secular mental health professionals advocate for the positive health effects of forgiveness: healthier relationships, improved mental health, less anxiety, lower blood pressure, fewer symptoms of depression, a stronger immune system, and improved heart health.[2] Forgiveness may be as health-promoting as jogging for 30 minutes 3 times a week, and is much less sweaty.

Forgiveness may be as health-promoting as jogging for 30 minutes 3 times a week, and is much less sweaty. Click To Tweet

So, let’s boil it down to a tip-the-scale question if we’re still struggling to forgive. Can we want good for the person who offended us? Desiring good for the other person is the root of empathy which is the seed of forgiveness. We have been unloading our pack to be able make this jump.

Desiring good for the other person is the root of empathy which is the seed of forgiveness. Click To Tweet

Unforgiveness says some combination of, “I want bad for you. I would be disappointed if good things happened to you. I want you to suffer in ways that are comparable to how you made me feel. I am preoccupied by monitoring whether good things are happening to you. You are a distraction from me enjoying a normal day. The world would feel morally out of order if good things happen to you.”

Forgiveness says some combination of, “I want good for you. I want you to come to know God’s forgiveness and freedom. I want God to change you into the kind of person who would not do again what you did and, then, I want you to flourish. I want the freedom to enjoy the good things in my life without comparing them to the good things in your life for the world to feel fair.”

If you have this level of empathy for the person who hurt you, then you are ready to forgive. In that sense, forgiveness is just getting out from in between the person who hurt you and God. Your forgiveness doesn’t predispose God to be more gracious to them any more than your unforgiveness prompts God to be less gracious towards them.

You may be asking questions about trust and how much to restore the relationship. Those are important questions and topics we will pick up in the next reflections. But for now, consider taking some of the load off your pack by forgiving.

Questions for Reflection

  1. How does it help you realize that when you need to forgive you won’t be in a good place emotionally? What pressure does it alleviate? What excuses does it remove?
  2. Does reframing forgiveness in the simple statement “I want good, not ill, for the person who hurt me,” make forgiveness seem more doable? How much freedom would embracing that statement provide for you?

[1] Rumors that this reflection was almost entitled “Forgiveness from Funky Town” may or may not be true.