“Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.”
Proverbs 10:12 (ESV)
How hard it is to love those who have offended us! The Lord makes it clear that we are to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44-45), and we are to forgive others just as he has forgiven us (Matthew 6:12-15). While it’s easy to say, or even think in our minds, “I forgive you,” to truly feel that forgiveness and act on it is a whole other story.
In the past three years, I’ve struggled with two situations in which I was deeply hurt. While I thought that I had forgiven the people involved, my heart hardened toward them when I saw them or heard about them. I realized I had not truly forgiven them and so I began praying to the Lord to help me with this. I think that’s why he kept putting one of the people in my path … daily. As I studied the topics of justice and forgiveness, I discovered:
- I was being judgmental toward this person. While what they did was wrong, it was not my place to “sentence” them for their actions. Only the Lord is the judge and he will take care of the consequences for their sin (Proverbs 24:12). When I judge others, that also is sin, and sadly, I will be repaid for that.
- Forgiving a person means wanting blessing for them. The only way I could begin to feel that way is to pray for good things for the other person until God softened my heart toward them and I could be glad that the other person was doing well.
- Forgiveness equals love. Proverbs 10:12 explains this: forgiveness covers all offenses. Not just some offenses. All offenses. The opposite of love is hate, which only results in strife. This strife comes not only in the form of broken relationships but also as internal pain and anguish, which ultimately results in stress and health problems for the person who harbors unforgiveness.
- Often, forgiveness does not happen instantly. It is a journey and it takes time. To achieve true forgiveness, we cannot simply withdraw from or avoid an offending party (unless, of course, that person puts you in danger) and hope that our hearts will heal. We must walk through the process, pray through the process and wait on the Lord.
Sadly, over the years how many friendships have been destroyed because someone was offended and never let go of their anger and hurt? How many unforgiving souls have found themselves with chronic illnesses? Unforgiveness is toxic, and yet it is so easy for many of us to hold on to it.
If you find yourself in a situation where you need to forgive another person, begin praying for love in your heart to grow that you may truly be able to wish the other person well. While this is not easy, the benefits of forgiveness far outweigh the consequences of unforgiveness.