So Why Can’t I Forgive? (Part 1)
Dr. Bill Senyard
Gospel App Ministries
Here is my voice, maybe yours:
“What is wrong with me that I can’t forgive? Do I lack faith? Do I lack character? Is there another Christian book that I should read that would give me the right recipe? I know that God is disappointed in me, or worse.”
In a study of 16 Christian models of how to forgive, the overwhelming bulk of the responsibility to forgive fell on the weary shoulders of the victim– not the perpetrator. So imagine a spectrum. If “0” is the victim being totally responsible to forgive, and “10” being the perpetrator bearing the burden, the bulk of the models hover close to “1”. It is very imbalanced and just not helpful.
Here is an overview of Christian and secular forgiving models.
1) the victim must come to grips with their anger and hurt;
2) the victim must dwell on how much forgiveness has been extended to them in the past;
3) the victim must lean into empathizing with the perpetrator; and perhaps the most critical element,
4) the victim must unilaterally choose to emotionally forgive.
So, victim, it is almost totally on you. No wonder it is such hard work with such little fruit to show for it, if the truth were known.
So here’s my question. How’s that going for you? On the surface, this model of forgiveness sounds so well-meaning, so Christ-like. Jesus does say to forgive 70×7 times. The problem is that He doesn’t say how, does he? We have just filled in that gap. What we have been doing might help a little bit short-term. But something is missing longer term.
Here are the two main reasons that you have found it so difficult, or even impossible to truly forgive. We will look at the first one in this article.
1) Your Brain Requires Justice Before It Will Let You Forgive
Doesn’t this make sense? One of the first things that children learn to say—any culture apparently– is “That’s not fair!” God has innately put that balanced scale in our brains. It does no good to deny it or to act as if it weren’t true. If something happens that whacks that scale out of balance, like a crime, or robbery, our brains can be a bit OCD about it. Our brains just won’t be able to focus on anything else until our fairness universe is realigned. I can say, “I forgive”, but something deep in my brain says, “Wait a minute, no you don’t.” Your brain is not at ease—at peace—until there is a higher resolution.
Good news, in Heaven, there will be perfect resolution. God will see to it.
“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Rev 21:4)
Then, of course, you can at last see the person who hurt you (assuming that they are there) and not trigger, not react, not have a fear cycle ignited. What has happened that made a difference? We call it “glorification”. Among the many other things that happens to us when we are resurrected in glory is that the Justice of the Cross is at last fully slathered on our careful, formerly hair-trigger heart. For the first time since the crime, we experience complete and perfect justice. You did nothing to get it. The perpetrator did nothing as well. Neither you nor they have that kind of power or pockets deep enough. 2000 years ago, Jesus accomplished justice for both of you and now the Spirit made you experience it.
So, do we have to wait to Heaven to experience forgiving of others? Yes and no. Most likely the perfect experience will wait until Heaven. But we can experience a little foretaste of that future perfect experience through the Holy Spirit in our inner-being (Eph 3:14-21). Think of that scale again, where “10” is perfect forgiving and “1” is none at all. Let’s say the wound is fresh and very painful, a “2”. Would you notice a difference if you could move to a “4”? Yes of course. It’s still not a “10”, but still it is a 100% improvement. What businessman would scoff at a 100% improvement to the bottom line? It would definitely be noticeable. You might just smile more. You just might “want” to forgive the person a little bit more than before. Make sense? If that happens, don’t fight it. Ride the wave.
Don’t get me wrong. What Jesus said, still stands. We are supposed to want to forgive each other 100% of the time (Matt 18). We just can’t do it on our own. Are you saying that Jesus commanded us to do something that we can’t do? Good question. That will be the topic for my next article.
All of this is why, seven years ago, we created the Forgiving Path (www.forgivingpath.com). We wanted to give hurting Christians a fresh path that checks all of the Biblical boxes related to forgiving others. It is 100% on-line, confidential, inexpensive and can be done on any computer or smart device. It consists of 9 professionally done video stations, each about 10-minutes long. There are very helpful before- and after- self-assessment surveys. You will find out immediately what changes have occurred according to four scientific metrics.
Hundreds have been helped, not perfectly, that’s relegated to Heaven, but it should be noticeable. You don’t need to leave your brain’s desire for justice at the door. Shame-free. Even if you thought you forgave someone years ago, you may be surprised that there is still much to accomplish. No judgment. It means you are human and made in the image of God.
Check it out now (www.forgivingpath.com). If you are a counselor, therapist or Christian coach, contact us directly. We want to help you help your patients. In the next article we will look at the second main reason that Christians are so poor at forgiving each other.
Take heart, child of God.