Forgiveness is a very important part of healing. I don't mean just spiritual or emotional healing, but physical healing, too. Some pain sufferers can point a finger at someone who caused their life-changing condition. I am one of those. Without going into detail about who or why, I will confess to you that I have held some anger and unforgiveness against a couple of medical professionals. While I know that God was ultimately sovereign over everything that happened, I still believe that there is some human responsibility, and I have held on to anger against these individuals for years.
I would like to take a few days this week to wrestle with some questions about forgiveness. Why must we forgive those who have harmed us? Is it necessary that they ask for our forgiveness in order for us to let go of bitterness? What are the benefits of forgiving and letting go of anger and resentment?
First, we must forgive because we are forgiven. In Matthew 18, Jesus tells the parable of the unforgiving servant. This man was forgiven a huge debt, yet he refused to forgive the debt of someone who owed him very little. When his master heard about it, he was not pleased. He had forgiven the man so much, and expected him to be compassionate and patient with his debtors. God, having forgiven us all of our sin against Him, expects the same. How can we receive God's love, forgiveness, and mercy, and not offer it to others? We cannot. In fact, if we do not forgive our debtors, we need to search our hearts to see if we have truly received God's forgiveness for the debt we could never pay.
Must our debtors ask our forgiveness before we can give it to them? Well, maybe. In Luke 17:3, Jesus tells the disciples, "If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you saying, 'I repent,' you shall forgive him.(emphasis mine)." Here, perhaps Christ gives us a reason to hold back our forgiveness. But how does this help us glorify Him, and become more like Him? Look at the whole counsel of Scripture. Do you see grudges, anger and bitterness portrayed as godly things? Are believers encouraged to hold on to hurts, and withhold forgiveness? No. The overarching counsel of Scripture is, love as you have been loved. Therefore, even if my offender does not repent, I am free to forgive him in my heart, and if I want any peace, I must. If one day he does repent, admitting his fault and asking my forgiveness, I will be ready to give it to him.
So, how do we forgive someone who has not repented? This forgiveness must begin with meditation in the heart on how much we have been forgiven. Forgiveness is a heart attitude, and so preparation for it must begin in the heart. A heart that is ruled by the Spirit of the Living God will see things from His point of view. He is the sovereign creator of the universe, and His plan is better than mine. While He is grieved over my pain, the truth is, He could have stopped it. He could have guided that surgeon's hands to perform my procedure correctly. He could have healed my body so that no medical intervention was ever necessary. I will not know His reasons this side of heaven, but I must decide whether I believe that they are good. I must choose do desire His glory over my comfort, and seek His guidance in how to use my pain for that purpose. Only the Holy Spirit can give me this attitude, so I turn to Him, asking for His grace.
Tomorrow, we will talk about the sovereignty issue, and wrestle a bit with the tension between God's sovereignty and the responsibilities of people who harm us. I am no Bible scholar, but I have gleaned a few things in my searching, and I hope that sharing them with you will help me to solidify them in my own heart, and bring some encouragement to you.