The Struggle to Forgive

Continuing the reposting of my golden oldies. This one was published exactly three years ago today!

Recently got an email from the pastor of the church we attend (online) introducing his new series on forgiveness. Here are a few things that he shared along with my comments:
"There is no other world religion or philosophy that speaks so clearly to the issue of forgiveness than Christianity."
I so agree! Forgiveness is mentioned approximately 116 times in the scriptures - 64 times in the New Testament. Much of Jesus ministry and teaching involved forgiveness. I love how Peter came to Jesus wanting a limit on the amount of times he "had to" forgive and Jesus basically told him that there was no limit.
"It is impossible to overstate the importance of forgiveness in our lives and world."
I think that all wars and most conflicts have their roots in unforgiveness. Much of my pastoral counseling with couples dealt with unforgiveness. It is sometimes so difficult to address because wounds run so deep.
"When we refuse to seek forgiveness we destroy relationships and can find ourselves living with guilt or shame."
I think that the most powerful words on earth, when offered with sincerity of heart, are "I am sorry". The words themselves are not magic but can often introduce a needed reconciliation.
"On either side of this equation, the withholding of forgiveness can be toxic. When we refuse to forgive our hearts are slowly corroded by the poison of resentment and bitterness."
So often the request for forgiveness is denied, reconciliation is blocked and the unforgiving person finds themselves imprisoned and put in bondage to their own unforgiveness. There is almost a sick justification for harboring ill feelings and refusing to forgive.

On the flip side sometimes forgiveness does not result in reconciliation. Abusers for example can be forgiven but it may not be wise to continue a relationship with them. Sometimes people can do irreparable harm to relationships.

When we struggle forgiving we must realize that the struggle is a divinely personal one.. we need help to forgive.. in a sense we often need Jesus to forgive through us. Here as an excerpt from "The Hiding Place", Corrie Ten Boom's book that relates her experiences with the Nazi's in World War II:
"It was at a church service in Munich that I saw him, a former S.S. man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbruck. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there – the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie's pain-blanched face.

He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. “How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein.” He said. “To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!” His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had preached so often to the people in Bloemendaal the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side.

Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him. I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I prayed, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness.

As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me. And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world's healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself."
If you struggle forgiving today take a cue from Corrie and ask Jesus to give you His Heart of Forgiveness.

Never know - you may have a Corrie experience?


  1. Bill says:

    I suggest you read the book "Forgiving the Dead Man Walking". It is one of the best books you will ever read on forgiveness.

  2. So glad you made a distinction between forgiveness and reconciliation. I suffered for years because I thought they were the same!

    I also often find that I just cannot forgive, humanly speaking, but as I take one step forward in willingness then God steps in and helps me with the rest. Great post Bob.

  3. @Bill - Thanks for the recommendation!

    @Mike - Yes! All God really asks is for a simple step. Sometimes reconciliation is not possible because it required both the forgiver and forgivee to participate.

  4. Thank you for this blog, Bob. So many times I come here to find you have written about something I'm struggling with at the time and this is no exception.

    Some time ago I read a treatise on forgiveness where the Christian author proclaimed humanity has so much trouble with forgiveness because it is quite simply an unnatural act. In this fallen state of humanity, retribution is natural, not forgiveness. So a genuine act of forgiveness must be supernatural, stemming from a forgiving God.

    And thank you for quoting Corrie Ten Boom, one of the great saints who came out of the horrors of WW2. Her book "The Hiding Place" should be considered NECESSARY reading for Christians, particularly American Christians who have yet to taste real persecution.

  5. HI,
    My name is Sophia i struggle to forgive somebody in my life.
    This person does the same act time and time again, the times it is done i have been so angry, but then am the one to innitiate reconciliation.
    This person has acted again and i am left with the same anger, i do not have it in me to initiate forgiveness again, but this person is to much of a coward to do it.....
    I struggle

  6. @Sophia - I understand a little of what you are saying. Sometimes forgiveness frees us from the need to interact with people who continually act bad. Sometimes forgiving someone is about letting go of both the anger and the relationship.


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