So Why Can’t I Forgive? (Part 2)
Dr. Bill Senyard
Gospel App Ministries
According to a 2019 Barna study, around 27% of practicing Christians say that there is a person that they just don’t want to forgive. One in four ( Yet, among the latter group, 28% admits they wish they could do so. No judgment. I totally resonate with this group.
As I think about these results, here are my shoot-from-the-hip observations.
1) If one quarter actually admit it, the number is more than likely higher, even much higher.
2) These “practicing” Christians are no doubt very aware that Jesus commanded “good” Christians to forgive 7×70 times.
3) To one degree or another, this group will wonder if they are a disappointment to Jesus. That will affect their joy, their worship, their prayer life, and their enthusiasm for witnessing.
Not to be Captain Obvious here, but something is wrong. The problem is that we have badly misunderstood the Biblical “How-To.” In the mid-80s, we embraced the popular teaching that victims should, largely on their own, make a rational and emotional choice to forgive the person who hurt them, to choose to empathize with him or her, and to give up their right to any justice. That philosophy has seeped into virtually all books and teachings on the topic—secular and Christian.
In some ways, I feel like that little boy in the Hans Christian Andersen short tale, The Emperor’s New Clothes. I am here to tell you that the “How-To-Forgive” Emperor is naked as a jaybird.
In the first article of “So Why Can’t I Forgive?”, I looked at the first of two reasons why you may have found it almost impossible to forgive: your brain requires justice before it will let you forgive. In this article we will look at the second reason:
2) You Are Not God
Any good Jewish Old Testament scholar will tell you that only God forgives. There is a single pure Hebrew word for forgive. It is the Hebrew verb “salach.” There are other images related to forgiving (e.g., lifting a burden or paying a debt). Yet, there is a single Hebrew word to express forgiving. Here’s the mic-drop moment. In the Old Testament, only God salachs.
Let that sink in a moment.
“Wait, Bill, are you saying that Jesus is commanding us to do something that only God can do? That doesn’t seem right?”
Yep, there is precedent in the Bible. Aren’t we commanded to love our enemies? How’s that going? Husbands, aren’t you supposed to 24-7 love your wife the same way that Jesus loves the church? Not graded according to a curve. How’s that going? Maybe I should ask your wife directly? Didn’t Jesus say that we were to be perfect, even as God is perfect? God regularly commands us to do things that on our own we just can’t or won’t do.
We are regularly put in a position where a faithful follower must run to God humiliated hands up begging Him alone for His intervention and His power.
When Moses asked about God’s core character, “What is your name?” God answered him by moving before him and proclaiming:
“The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.
That’s a lot of forgiving others. Looks like Jesus to me. To be honest, I don’t do this.
Mic-drop #2. There is more. God’s forgiving of others is a function of completed justice.
Whoever God is, there is one thing for sure: He is both abounding in love and forgiveness, and yet He still perfectly requires judgment. How do we reconcile the apparent conflict? What is this forgiveness that also requires justice? In our language, we pit the two against each other. Either we forgive or we pursue justice—one or the other.
But there is no conflict between the two in God’s character. God will not forgive a single crime until there has been perfect justice. So, 2000 years ago, on the Cross, all of my sins were fully tried, I was found guilty, the verdict was “death!” and then finalized when Jesus took my punishment on His shoulders.
“He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Isa 53:4-5)
God uniquely has experienced this justice for all Jesus-followers. To be clear, if you are a Christian, and yet you hurt me, God forgives you, and adores you as you are, strictly due to the work of Jesus on your behalf.
But I am not God! I can’t forgive you from the heart until I too begin to experience the justice that Jesus completed for you.
In Heaven, I too will experience that complete justice in full. When I see you in Heaven, my brain will not trigger. It will not hold anything against you.
But what about now? In Eph 3:14-21, Paul is urging the Ephesians to access the power of God through the Holy Spirit in their inner being (wherever that is) to begin to grasp the height, width, length and depth of the love of God.
Did you know that you need power, from God alone, in order to actually even begin to experience the love of Christ for you today? There is a difference between “being” loved by Jesus, and “experiencing” that ever-present love right now. Paul is modeling that if we want to experience Jesus’ love right now, we need to ask God to make us feel loved by Him today, then tomorrow, then the next day.
This love of Jesus is not just for you, it is also for others. You need immediate power from God in order to experience love (empathy, forgiving) for others, including the person who hurt you. Only God forgives.
It is very simple really. A child could do it. We adults seem to really struggle to ask. So, 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.
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. Check it out now (www.forgivingpath.com).
Take heart, child of God.