3 things About Forgiveness I Grapple With

Forgiveness is often spoken about but not as often practiced. Why is it so difficult to forgive? What exactly does it mean to forgive?

There is no forgetting after forgiveness
We may be familiar with the phrase to “forgive and forget”. Yet, it is often this very phrase that leaves some of us jaded and frustrated about the past hurts and seemingly “resolved” situations. My biggest issue with it is that the giver of forgiveness is always left to deal with the hurt/pain/misunderstanding that has been caused by the one who committed the act.

Consider a couple where one spouse is unfaithful. Even if the unfaithful partner seeks forgiveness from the other for the wrong done, the affected party bears the full weight of the hurt and pain. It is not human to forget hurtful things that are done to us; we are not programmed that way. Unless by some miracle we lose that specific part of our memory, the hurt that comes with disappointment caused by another will linger for a long time. I recall the many times I uttered the words, “It’s fine, I forgive you,” and realize that “fine” was certainly not how I felt. Forgiveness does not erase any of the memories.

There is no fairness in forgiveness
Not only is it humanly impossible to forget the wrong that was done toward us, the very act of forgiving someone undeserving seems altogether unfair. More often than not, forgiveness, as required in the Bible, is an action that must be carried out even when it is not sought.

I recently read about a Cambodian man, Sokreaksa Himm, who witnessed his entire family massacred by Khmer Rouge soldiers before his very eyes at the tender age of 14. The initial pain and hurt he experienced gave way to bitterness and anger, fuelling his desire to seek revenge on those who were responsible. Some years later, Sokreaksa came to know Jesus as his personal Savior and was confronted with the need to forgive to overcome his hatred and bitterness toward his family’s murderers. He eventually sought them out, not for revenge, but to tell them personally that he had forgiven them. It bewilders me how a man can forgive in such circumstances. They did not seek forgiveness neither were they held accountable or punished for their actions. Fairness simply doesn’t exist in forgiveness.

There is no guarantee of change after forgiveness
And what happens after forgiveness? Will the person change? Working as a teacher for a number of years has taught me that there is no guarantee of a transformed life; the person who was forgiven may just repeat the same old mistake. Each time I sat with my students to correct a wrong deed and to tell them that they’ve been forgiven, I cannot help but remember the previous times they had committed the same errors and wonder if they would repeat them.

Impossible forgiveness
Knowing that there is no forgetting of the wrong, no fairness, no guarantee of change, forgiveness seems impossible. Yet, the expectation on us to forgive comes with the ultimate example of Christ’s death on the cross (Colossians 3:12-13). As I considered what Jesus did, I understood that forgiveness will cost us something—it costs Jesus His life at a time when you and I were most undeserving.

Perhaps we need a paradigm shift in the way we view ourselves versus others. Many times I find that my inability to forgive is because I compare the severity of wrong done by others with the wrong I’ve committed. Forgiveness can only happen when we first look at the cross of Jesus, under which every wrong is equally undeserving but washed clean by His blood nonetheless.

To forgive and forget is impossible. To remember and yet forgive—that is divine and can only happen because of who Jesus is and what He has done. Look to the cross for strength today, as forgiveness is made possible only by the One who died and forgave.



6 replies
    • Ian
      Ian says:

      Thanks C for the ‘thank you’ note! I am glad that it has been of an encouragement to you!

  1. Penny Fuller
    Penny Fuller says:

    Forgiveness in my life has been many things:

    Accepting that Christ has shown me the way to forgive, by example; giving his life on this earth to show that forgiving it is important and possible.

    Forgiving is choosing not to bring “it” up again, choosing not to start the disagreement all over again, adding more pain and misery to it.

    Forgiving is allowing Christ to work in others for change without comment of how or how fast it should be done. Consider how complex it must be, weaving trillions of lives together and apart.

    I have gaps of memory of my past. My sister was once telling a story about our childhood. I turned to her and said, “I don’t remember that.” I meant, simply, I don’t have a memory of that. She thought my statement to be a disagreement of whether she was telling the truth. I had also forgotten that interpretation. Living and thinking simply can be very relaxing.

    A child thinks clearly and simply. Life is more peaceful without innuendo and sarcasm. Forgetting allows me to hope. I choose to interpret other people’s statements and actions as being influenced by things in their life of which I am not aware and cannot understand. I choose to believe that they are learning or have learned, with Christ’s guidance, a profound lesson. I choose to give up the teaching to the Great Teacher, and work on making my life and future simpler, wiser, and more peaceful.

    Forgetting is God’s gift that I can use my energy for the future. My future and the future of those I love in sharing love and hope and giving help where God leads me.


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