(And a confession: why I need this next Online Bible Study but have been avoiding it like the plague.)
There are a lot of opinions out there about forgiveness. Experts will tell you that you do not have to forgive. The media is rife with articles about not forgiving those who have hurt us, or that it’s cruel to tell people to forgive because it invalidates the abuse they experienced and the trauma they may be slowly working through.
I get it.
I kind of want to fist-pump the air to that except in my heart I know it’s not what I need for my soul…
You see, I’m dealing with tremendous hurt and facing this study about forgiveness has been a little daunting. Thinking about what the Lord is calling me to address with Him as I approach this next Online Bible Study, Forgiving What You Can’t Forget with Lysa TerKeurst, feels like a ginormous no-but-thank-you-very-much right now. I literally just did all my laundry, emptied the dish washer, cleaned my bathroom, and organized my desk drawers to delay writing a little longer. Hashtag talktomelaterJesusimsuperbusy.
So, I needed to make myself sit down and ask why all my insides want to avoid this topic. What I came up with is… the questions.
There are so many questions, especially in the Christian community, and you might be experiencing them, too! Here are a few that Lysa tackles in her study:
- Are there special circumstances that are unforgivable?
- Is it okay to forgive people and yet protect yourself from them and their unchanging, hurtful behavior?
- What do I do with relatives/ family members who truly harmed me and are not repentant when it seems like Christians around me want me to just get over it?
- What about people I love but don’t like?
- Doesn’t forgiveness let people off the hook?
- Does forgiveness mean the same thing as reconciliation?
Lysa unpacks much of this in her “Journey through what the Bible actually says about forgiveness” final chapters (worth the price of the book alone!) and while we can’t cover all of it here today, let’s focus on what Jesus had to say about the topic.
This is what my Grams McClure taught me — go straight to Jesus. Jesus often spoke on forgiveness, either directly or through parables like the story of the loving father and his rebellious, prodigal son. His teachings on the topic of forgiveness were definitely unexpected and counter-cultural for His time, just as they still are today…
What Jesus Said About Forgiveness
If we go straight to the Red Letter words in the Bible to see what Jesus actually says about forgiveness, here’s some of what we’ll find:
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. — Matthew 5:7
John Mark shared that Jesus quoted The Shema (the keynote of Jewish morning and evening prayer) in Mark 12:29-31 when answering the question “What is the most important commandment”,
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God will all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (from Leviticus 19:18)
Jesus also said this about forgiveness:
“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you… Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” — Luke 6:27-28, Luke 6:35b-36
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. — Matthew 5:11 (see also Luke 6:22)
Jesus even said that when we don’t forgive people (Matthew 7:1-2), we will also be judged in the same way. Yikes! It’s as if we’re judging them unworthy of the forgiveness we ourselves so freely received, which isn’t very smart for those on the receiving end of a truck-load of grace.
If we want grace, we have to dole it out. Freely. Wholeheartedly.
And possibly Jesus’ most famous words about forgiveness are from the Lord’s Prayer:
Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. — Matthew 6:12 (also Luke 11:4)
So, forgiveness was a big deal to Jesus… enough to include it when He taught His disciples how He wanted them to pray. Jesus was not a fan of the “eye for an eye” policy (Matthew 5:38-42) that was the culture (sounds relevant today, too) and instead He taught them to turn the other cheek.
And not just turn the cheek but forgive over and over again.
Peter asked Jesus this about forgiveness:
“Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Since seven is the number of perfection, what Peter suggested was pretty epic.
However, the way Jesus responded blew them all away!
I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times. — Matthew 18:21-22 (*or seventy times seven depending on your Bible version)
But, why? Why when it feels so terribly unfair? Why when it feels like the injurer gets off scot-free and the injured pays the long-term price? Why when they never apologize?
It causes me to back up and ask the more meta questions:
Is God really good? And is He good to me?
When I wrestle with those issues, — as I kick, fight, battle, and cry before the Lord — , the conclusion is clear: yes.
So then, if God is good and He is good to me, then what He wants me to do must be good. Right? Yes. It’s for my freedom and for His glory. I won’t always understand it, but faith compels me to trust Him when I don’t understand.
But what about the people who caused the pain? (I’m not done with them yet!) I’ve turned the other cheek. Do they just get to keep slapping my other cheek? No. I can move my cheek!
In some cases we have no choice but to separate or end a relationship for safety or sanity’s sake, but we’re still called to forgive.
(Lysa unpacks so much more of this in the book and study; see chapter 9: “Boundaries That Help us Stop Dancing with Dysfunction.”)
We see this in the life of Jesus, too. Jesus didn’t give everyone access to Himself. He walked away from people who were out to destroy Him before His time (Luke 4:28-30). He didn’t answer people who were clearly intending to mock or ridicule Him such as Herod (Luke 23:8-9). Jesus wasn’t a doormat. He listened to God the Father and obeyed Him and remained loving and set boundaries for Himself.
We, as Christ-followers, get to follow that example.
This study is going to go deep, though, friends. In processing forgiveness with the Lord, we may deal with
- Unfelt grief
- Unprocessed anger
- Untapped feelings of rejection
- Unfair abandonment
- Unimaginable abuse
What does Jesus say to that?
Come to Me, My beloved.
Jesus is the Savior who loves us more than we could possibly imagine. He doesn’t call us to forgive to hurt us. He commands us to forgive for our own sake, for our hearts, for our freedom. Quickly. Deeply. As often as it takes. And, holding His hand all the way!
Lysa, in her Forgiveness Journal, wrote this beautiful prayer…
God, I give this situation to You. I release
- my evidence of all the reasons they were so wrong
- my need to see this person punished
- my need for an apology
- my need for this to feel fair
- my need for You to declare me right and them wrong
Show me what I need to learn from all of this. And then give me Your peace in place of my pain.
I want to start what hasn’t yet been finished in me. I want His peace. Don’t you? If you’ve been struggling with this topic, dear reader, just know I’m right there with you… but I’m ready to begin the journey and invite His healing in.