Forgiveness Part 2: What is Forgiveness?

In the previous post I wrote about why it is imperative to let go of hurts and offenses and to live your life walking in forgiveness.  As Christians we do not have the luxury of remaining bitter, vengeful, unforgiving and holding grudges.  I laid out the scriptural commands that instruct us on forgiveness and showed the gravity of the situation when we do not forgive others. Knowing that God will not forgive us if we don’t forgive others is a pretty sobering thought and should be all the motivation we need. Yet we often have difficulty with forgiving those who have transgressed against us and hurt us.  I think we don’t really understand what it means to forgive someone.

Many times people have trouble forgiving because they believe that it’s tied to emotions or memory and they think they have to stop feeling or stop remembering in order to forgive. Not true. I teach every weekend at my marriage seminar and write about it in my book Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage. Here is an excerpt:

The first thing you have to understand about forgiveness is that is has nothing to do with your emotions.  You may feel the emotional pain of what that other person did to you till the day you die—it has nothing to do with forgiveness.

Second, forgiveness has nothing to do with erasing your memory. You may remember what that person did to you till the day you die.  Forgiveness is simply this: a decision to let it go.  The Greek word that translates to “forgiveness” is aphieeme,” literally “to send off,” “to release,” or “to let go.”  This means forgiveness is the act of sending away incidents that cause offense to brew in us. It means we can’t keep focusing on the wrong done to us.  Forgiveness is an act.  This is an example of forgiveness: ‘I forgive you.  I will never use it against you in the future.  I will never speak of it again to you or to anyone else.”

When you forgive, you decide to release the person from his or her guilt, period.  You may remember the offense repeatedly at first.  That’s okay.  The commitment to forgive a person is a commitment to “send away” the incident every time it reappears in your mind.

Once the apostle Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?  Up to seven times?”  Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” That’s 490 times.

Luke, in his Gospel, adds the phrase “a day.’  Imagine forgiving the same person 490 times a day!  Truth is, it is pretty easy to get consumed by someone’s offense.  When a person does something that really hurts you, you will naturally think about it over and over again.  Practicing the principle of forgiving someone 490 times a day means every time you think about what that person did to you, you prayerfully give it to God.  The choice to forgive means we keep forgiving.  Over time you will find the incident losing strength.

You must also remember that forgiveness has more to do with your tongue than your head or your heart.  If you’re still talking about what that person did to you, you haven’t forgiven him or her.  You need to hush.  You need to let it go.  The good news is, God will help you do this.

See, you don’t have to erase your feelings or memories. Forgiveness is not amnesia; it’s intentionally choosing to let the offense go. When God forgives us He never brings it up again. The Bible says he throws it in the sea of forgetfulness. But it’s not like he’s an old man who has Alzheimer’s. Do you really think that God can’t remember? It’s not as if God looks at you and goes, “There’s something that ticks me off about this guy, but I just can’t remember what it is!” You think God literally can’t remember? Of course He can, He just chooses not to.  He never brings it up again. He never, ever, ever, will speak of it or use it against you in any way, shape, or form. And that’s what you need to do as a Christian. You need to quite talking about it…and that includes the running conversations you have with yourself in your head!

When an offense is new and you are first dealing with all the emotion and hurt, you need to talk through it and all. I get that and I’m not condemning that. But at some point you have to stop, let it go and you have to let go of the anger and hate in your heart. People complain that it’s hard to do. Yeah, that’s why you need to pray and ask God to help you.  I’ve struggled with this. There have been times in my life that I’ve been so angry and I didn’t want to forgive. But I knew better. I knew this was not okay and I took it so seriously because I know what the Bible says. So in tears and crying out to God, I dealt with it and broke through. So I’m not condemning people who struggle with this—we all struggle. If you are a Christian you have to let it go. If you say you have forgiven the person, but are constantly in a state of pain day after day, into week after month after year, you have only re-titled the unforgiveness as “pain”. Be aware of the struggle and realize that it’s not a good place for you to be. It might take some work, but you need to get out of it.

Refusing to forgive another doesn’t make right the wrong, nor does it even the score or supply vengeance. It only hurts the one who refuses to forgive.  Unforgiveness is like taking poison in hopes that the other guy will die.  And it is literally like a toxic poison in your body. It will make you sick and destroy you, your life and your relationships. Jesus taught that without forgiveness, your very relationship to God is doomed.  And I can assure you that without forgiveness, your marriage is doomed.

*Also see the related post I Said I Was Sorry”.

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19 Responses to “Forgiveness Part 2: What is Forgiveness?”

  1. Rhonda says:

    The part where it says “I will never speak of this to you or anyone else again”, sometimes, you have to revisit situations esp. when they have been difficult, in order to work through it. Some things can’t be done in 1 fell swoop. Some things are a process. You feel you’re over it, but something reminds you of the incident & you have to revisit it-it’s a work in process.

    • phil says:

      If i leave something in Gods hands ~ Why would i want to pick it back up?? (ie: revisit it) Getting hurt will sometimes leave marks and scars ~ But TRUTH ~ Should Always Strengthen us.. If i should have to ‘revisit’ , i would smile at the triumph God had led me thru..
      No marks, scars or hurts (save Gods) can effect my character without my (or Gods) concent…

  2. alyssa carton says:

    I dont really buy this way of looking at forgiveness. I do believe it is necessary in relationships but to say there is no need for emotions to be connected to forgiveness if I understand what you have stated correctly is false. Maybe its a woman thing but I do believe that the right emotion is essential for you to forgive and truly let go of an issue.
    I believe the bible has the ability to help someone get their emotions about anything right which allows for the right behavior to come forth. I do not choose to do christianity from a behavior standpoint but choose to use the bible to disciple my emotions which produces the correct behavior. I dont know if others look at it that way but I dont need their permission to look at the bible this way. If anyone disagrees thats on them and they may need to forgive me.

    • phil says:

      Does it matter how you arrive at the right destination?? Point is ~ If it were not possible , God would not have commanded it..
      ie: My path will not be the same as yours ,, But our actions for any given situation should be the same…

    • Immanuel Comer says:

      I agree. Our emotions should not dictate the decision to forgive. However, they are indicators to how we feel about a person or situation. As forgiveness is perfected the emotions regarding the situation and person will change. I commented further on this blog.

  3. Christine says:

    I agree with Rhonda, there are situations which have cut so deep that re-visiting is necessary…you get through a little of that hurt at a time, hopefully someday being through all of it. There are situations I struggle with, but never bringing them up again would be, to me, like pretending it didn’t happen and condoning the actions of the other person. It’s as if I would be saying “I’ll just get over it if you do it again.” No, they should NOT do it again, and it will effect my thinking for the rest of my days.

    • phil says:

      Forgiveness is NOT the same as Pretending.. Nor is forgiveness a mandate for me to stay where i am being hurt.. Hurts happen.. Scars happen.. But , Abuse is NOT part of that plan..
      I don’t believe God will condone anything either.. There are NO Grey areas..

  4. Christine says:

    That said, I am not bitter, I have forgiven, but I cannot forget. Communication is key and if the issue is bothering me, I need to communicate that because it definitely shows in my actions.

  5. IMO says:

    Mark, thank you for the wake-up call speaking the truth without compromise. How terrifying to realize my continued refusal to forgive was damning me for eternity. I had been grateful that God had forgiven me so very much but I had not, in turn, forgiven others. As of today, I will not poison myself anymore. All Glory to God and much thanks to you!

  6. Ingrid says:

    Wow, I’ve never looked at it this way. I have just forgiven being molested as a child, adult rapes, bashings, torture, also adultery, humiliation and lies, abuse of my children. I have been carrying all this rage and grief around all my life, and I just said I forgive these people. I asked God to take it all, and help me to get through it, but I don’t know if I can never bring it up again, because it’s a lifelong mission to work through it. These things helped shape who I am today, and I know God turns things around for good, like my funny, crazy daughter, who came from rape and violence, and who is one of my best friends.
    It’s so difficult to say you forgive these things, because it does feel as if you’re condoning the acts. It’s hard to remember being a little girl, and having a man take you, and use you, or to grow up, and find yourself locked up, and being beaten and raped. It’s the hardest thing to do. And boy! Have I been angry?
    It’s changed my life, and who I am. But then, maybe this is who God always meant me to be.
    It’s a hard call, but I just did it. I forgave them.

  7. Susanne says:

    In working on forgiveness, I discovered it released me, not let the other person ‘off the hook’. I CHOSE to forgive, and continue to chose to forgive, whenever I am faced with a memory, a new ituation or the person concerned, because I want the freedom to walk in love and not harbour grudges. Whenever I start the “but, but….” mind games, I keep saying, “No, that’s forgiven – God knows about it, He knows my need, He is my peace…” whatever will help me focus elsewhere and especially on the goodness and mercy of God. I find I have more intimacy with God, a freedom with people to relate to them and a deeper walk with my Heavenly Daddy. Sill learning…

  8. Immanuel Comer says:

    Very good blog. However, I’d like to offer a slightly different spin on forgiveness and emotions from my personal experience.

    While the decision to continuously forgive may not be emotional, I believe that the emotions attached to the offense changes as the process of forgiveness heals the person from the hurt and bitterness. When we forgive as Christ forgave, I believe it starts as obedience to God’s Word and is continued until we truly learn to exhibit God’s LOVE. Although love is also an ability and not simply an emotion. I believe the love that we have and show the person we forgive causes us to feel compassion and sympathy even regarding the issue that may have caused (or may currently be causing) us pain.

    Consider the forgiveness requested by Christ as he died on the cross. He was forgiving all of us, including those presently causing him pain.

  9. Yram says:

    Unforgiveness is like a slow poison that eats into your system and eventually kills you. I’ll admit it’s not easy to forgive but once you make up your mind to forgive, remember that the holy spirit is there to help you all the way through. It’s mandatory as christians to forgive one another so that God’s glory will be seen in us. forgiveness brings about physical and spiritual healing where by you find inner peace and peace of mind.

  10. Sean says:

    I am fresh , hurting , after the confession of a GF who cheated and lied to me for 6 years. I cry each day , my pain comes from a broken heart that once had a dream of a happy home, we share 3 children. This weekend it will be 7 weeks since she admitted when his wife confronted me. I am in tears as i type this, I pray that God will soften my heart and give me strength to forgive her, it is hard and harder and harder , to overcome the pain of a woman who cheated with a Married man. I dont want vengeance I want love ,I am angry I am hurt , if forgiveness is not a grey line then if i die today I will burn in Hell. To forget is a lifetime , the memories , the lack of trust , the lost bond!She cheated not me but I have to forgive her , so God can forgive me, for I am not free of Sin. I need prayer and pray each day , and know God is not listening to me because I have not forgiven her. Please help me

  11. Mom R-D says:

    Just saw your comment today Sean. I pray you have had support from others since the day you posted and that you have already begun to feel God helping you through your difficult time. Please know that God IS hearing you, despite your feelings. God will help you forgive. He knows that you need his help and will not abandon you! If it is still difficult for you to feel that he is listening, you can be assured that he is also hearing the rest of us who are praying for you! Life is hard, the challenges build our souls, it shows we have faith when we strive to hear God and let him help no matter how loudly the sounds (challenges) of our world try to drown out his voice . Forgiveness isnt like a lightswitch, its a journey, hurts and betrayals do revisit us….just start somewhere. If you can start with one thing…such as praying for the best outcome instead of wishing retaliation toward the other person (thats where I found a start once) or praying that the other person, for their own salvations sake, will see what they have done (a current starting point in a challenge I am dealing with….financial and emotional abuse of my 88 year old mother and her 92 year old sister by the children of their deceased sister….by the way…pray for us too…thanks). You will get there, I know, because its obvious in your post that you Love God and care about your relationship with Him. Feel God talking to you, talk about your feelings with him and feel others praying with and for you. Youre going to be OK!
    (ps. my kids worst punnishment when they were little was moms “preaching” that seemed to never end…they still laugh.about that….So, sorry for.the excessive length!)

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