For the last couple of days, we have been talking about forgiveness. First, we established the importance of forgiveness in general. We discussed the biblical necessity of forgiveness, and shared a little about how important it is for healing. Next, we talked about the sovereignty of God, which we all must understand if we are to forgive those who have harmed us. If you haven’t finished wrestling with those two truths—the importance of forgiveness and the sovereignty of God—then you probably should go back and do some study of your own until you are convinced. Then, come back and read this last post.
How will forgiveness help with our pain or physical affliction? Well, first of all, when we forgive, the anger we feel toward those who have harmed us will melt. We all know the physical manifestations of anger: Neck and shoulder pain from tense muscles; lack of sleep from adrenaline and other hormones that pump into our blood when we are angry; depression that results when our anger is turned inward can cause stomach problems, headaches, and more insomnia. When we don’t get good restorative sleep, pain is always worse. Also, my own experience and that of many others confirms that unforgiveness and anger increase inflammation in the body. My friends who have RA, IBS and other inflammatory and autoimmune diseases have shared with me that when they forgave, their symptoms decreased. The reverse is also true for most. I’m sure there are many factors in this outcome, but you cannot deny the correlation when you talk with suffering believers.
Forgiving others releases us from the bondage of anger. While we hold them responsible, we cannot put what they did to us out of our mind. Every time we feel the pain, we are reminded of their wrong against us. For me, this is literally every time I take a step. A wise friend suggested to me that I begin to remember a particular scripture when I step into pain:
But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. —2 Corinthians 12:9
Instead of thinking about that doctor or therapist, or how sad I am about my pain and disability, I boast in my weakness. I remember that God’s grace is sufficient for me. This means that, regardless of my physical condition, I will always be able to bring glory to God. He will see to it, because His power is made perfect in my weakness. It is He who will orchestrate His glory in my pain. I don’t have to do anything except obey Him in it. Part of that obedience is to forgive those who have harmed me through deliberate action or neglect. When I do that, Christ’s power will rest on me, and I can rest in Him. What a relief! I don't have to harbor bitter feelings or resentment toward anyone, because ultimately, His glory is being worked out in my weakness. Really, it is a privilege to suffer as a believer, because regardless of the cause, my suffering and weakness give Him the opportunity to show His strength to a watching world.
The key is this: I must desire His glory more than my comfort. This is a tough place to get to, and few arrive there and stay until they are taken up to glory. With discipline and practice, though, any believer can get his mind and heart to this place, at least some of the time. It requires a full understanding (or as close as we can get this side of heaven) of the sovereignty of God. When we believe and cling to the fact that God is God and He works everything for his good purposes, the Spirit will help us to let go of anger, bitterness, and despair about our affliction. It is only then that we will be able to glorify Him in our suffering, boasting in our weakness and resting in Him.