People hurt us. Whether intentionally or accidentally, they cause us pain, often deeply. It makes us angry, and we want vengeance. However, Jesus insists we forgive our offenders. He is so particular about it, he warns us that he will withhold his own forgiveness if we don't forgive others. "For if you forgive other people when they sin against you," he warns, "your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins" (Matthew 6:14‑15).
Why would a God who "so loved the world he gave his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" say something like that? We sometimes forget that just as other people have hurt us, we hurt other people too. And, worse, we have hurt God by sinning. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23a), which means we all deserve to die. However, "the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23b). God forgave us, but it cost him his Son to pay the debt.
When we accept God's forgiveness and then extend our forgiveness to others, we show that we have truly understood the price God paid for our freedom. We also exhibit traits of divinity because forgiveness is a divine characteristic. Doing this is truly a sign that we are living like God's children. If we don't forgive, then whose children are we acting like? And the devil is not a good father; he does not know kindness.
Therefore if God insists we forgive others, it is to protect us because the devil is a torturer. He will not let us rest during the day, keeping our minds busy with plots and plans of revenge (most of which will never come to pass unless our last name is Corleone). He will keep us up at night, and if we do fall asleep, it will be filled with dark and dismal dreams. Sneers will replace smiles, and wrinkles will write themselves all over our faces. Our hearts will fester with hatred and eventually infect our entire body, eating away months, if not years, from our lives. Is this what we want?
When we forgive others, it doesn't justify or condone their actions — some of the things that people do to us are terrible and leave scars that last a lifetime — but it prevents their actions from destroying our souls. We don't forgive to give the people who hurt us peace; we forgive to receive it for ourselves.
I will be speaking about forgiveness in my live talk this Saturday, and if you think you could use some help forgiving people who have hurt you, you may want to spare an hour to listen. God might bring you some healing, not just in heart and mind, but in body as well. You will find details on how to register on my site.
May the Spirit be with you.