“I’m sorry, will you forgive me?”
As a kid, we hear these words from our siblings all the time and we say them just as often. Most of the time, we say “Yeah” or “It’s no big deal.” But what about when it’s bigger? What about when you’ve really been hurt? How do we forgive then? Is it even possible?
I’ve forgiven people all of my life and never thought anything of it. Honestly, I was just going through the motions. Then, two years ago, I was deeply hurt by someone I trusted a lot. Someone I looked up to and cared about. Suddenly forgiveness wasn’t so easy. I struggled not to become bitter and angry. I wanted to forgive; I didn’t want to hold a grudge, but how can you forgive and know that you honestly and truly forgive that person? Everyone is betrayed or hurt by someone sometime in their life. Maybe it’s your parent, your boyfriend, your best friend or a leader in your church. It’s then that you question everything—even your faith, if you’re like me.
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:21-22)
Obviously, the disciples struggled with forgiveness, too. Peter thought he was being generous, suggesting that he forgive his brother seven times (the Pharisees taught that three was more than enough). He must have been shocked when Jesus said 77 times—basically saying forgive forever. It’s not easy, especially when you don’t want to. But Jesus commands it.
[Jesus said] “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (John 20:23)
This thought is echoed in the Lord’s Prayer where it says “forgive us our trespasses [sins], as we forgive those who trespass against us.” What Jesus is saying, what we are asking God, is to forgive us according to how we forgive other people. Forgiveness is something we are commanded to do. It’s hard, but “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)
When I was struggling with forgiveness, I asked my mom, “How do I know if I have forgiven this person? I want to forgive, but I don’t know if I have.” I was still hurt and upset, so I didn’t know if I had truly forgiven. She told me that you’ve truly forgiven someone if you want the best for them; if you harbor no feelings of anger or revenge. You don’t have to love someone or trust them or even want to ever see them again to have forgiven them.
Something else to think about is what about when the other person is not sorry? The person I struggled to forgive was not even sorry (that I knew of) about what they had done. For all I know, they still aren’t sorry. Even then, we must forgive.
I have forgiven by the grace of God, and you can, too. He does not ask you to do it by your own will.
“Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,” says the Lord Almighty. (Zechariah 4:6b)
He promises to help you and to give you strength. He will go with you.