This issue of forgiveness is one that periodically has been difficult to discuss in our main support group. There are many who are pretty hurt and at the time they feel there is no way they can forgive.
Some have become upset when I have shared the importance of forgiveness. Some who have been hurt in a church feel the offender must come to them and admit their wrong or ask for forgiveness first before they should forgive them. I disagree. Your chances of getting an apology from spiritually abusive leadership is slim to none.
I believe that forgiveness as a Christian is not an option. Yes, that means no matter how hurt one was. Yes, that means even if the hurt was deliberate and with intent. Jesus taught that we must forgive and if we refuse to forgive, then our own sins will not be forgiven.
We could look at this subject from a few angles. Jesus did not die for just some people’s sins. He took upon Himself the sins of all humanity. He paid the full price for those sins. If we will allow Him into our lives, He washes us clean from any and all wrongdoing we did. How are we viewing his sacrifice when we refuse to forgive? Think about it. Are we saying that what Jesus did wasn’t enough? That somehow the price should be greater for some people? (Of course not us, mind you.)
With this in mind, who are we to tell anyone they will not be forgiven? We didn’t pay the price, Jesus did. We didn’t even pay the price for our own sins. If it were not for the grace of God, would we not have many sins for which we’d have to give account? Because of this, should believers withhold forgiveness from others?
Remember when Jesus told those who had caught the woman in adultery that whoever was without sin, that person could cast the first stone to have her killed, as the law allowed? There was only one there who could have started the stone throwing, and that was Jesus. We all have been in need of forgiveness. We have all been in need of mercy. Should we not then extend this to those who have wronged us?
If we refuse to forgive and desire to harbor this in our hearts, doesn’t that person yet have control or influence over us? Things like this do affect us, whether or not we realize it. Forgiveness actually does more for you than it does for the person being forgiven.
Forgiving doesn’t mean it didn’t or doesn’t hurt. Forgiving doesn’t mean you have to trust the person again or renew any relationship. Forgiving doesn’t mean being a doormat, allowing yourself to be used over and over. Forgiving doesn’t mean that the person has no possible consequences to face.
Forgiving does mean it releases that person from you and also releases you from that person.
It greatly angers me at times when I see what the religious system has done to people. That doesn’t mean I hate the people in it or that I do not forgive them. Many people yet inside do things because it is all they know to do, with some parroting behaviors of others. Some have no idea how much they hurt people. Others do not realize the error they teach.
I changed during my involvement in an unhealthy church. I became judgmental and I am sure there were times I hurt people. I needed forgiveness for those things. And so do the people yet involved.
Some might respond, “Some people say, ‘Forgive and forget.’ Only God is truly able to do that. Yet, even with forgiveness, the Bible demands restitution.”
I don’t believe we are told to forget. We are human and have memories. Jesus remembered how Peter had denied him three times. Paul remembered that Demas had forsaken him. Even if we tried hard to forget some things, something on occasion would trigger the memory.
As to restitution, the Bible speaks of it but I don’t see where it is for us to demand. Restitution may not always be possible. For instance, how exactly does an abusive minister give restitution for giving someone a warped view of God or for causing people to follow teachings that were man-made? What about those who are no longer alive? How does someone do this when they don’t yet realize they are wrapped up in an abusive church environment and have a wrong mindset?
Doesn’t the Bible say that with what judgment we give, we will be dealt with the same? Do you not need forgiveness? Have you ever hurt anyone? Could you have hurt someone and not realized it? Would you not want that person to forgive you?
I know what it is like to have your reputation smeared. While I was in the United Pentecostal Church I had a good rep. After I left, my former pastor and some others periodically did things to try and tarnish my reputation. I have to live with the lies as sometimes you just cannot break from the cloud someone has placed over your head. Some people will always believe what they hear and never look into the veracity of what a pastor proclaims.
I learned that you cannot go running around trying to clear your name all the time. Much as we don’t like it and it hurts us inside, doing so causes us to lose our proper focus. God knows. He will not be made to believe any lies.
It may be difficult and take awhile, but we should all move toward the goal of being able to forgive those who hurt us.
Below is a video clip with a song about forgiveness. Perhaps it will help someone to realize the importance of forgiveness.