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.
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.