Yesterday in Part I we talked about giving people the benefit of the doubt and looking beyond our initial emotional response to anger and offense. But sometimes people go beyond the benefit of the doubt and actually do something that causes legitimate pain. Take Joseph, for example… (GENESIS 37-45)
– Joseph is one of the youngest with 10 older half-brothers
– They plan to kill him, but the oldest convinces the others simply to throw Joseph in a pit
– They end up selling him to a caravan of Ishmaelites on their way to Egypt
– Joseph becomes a slave to Potiphar but is a hard worker and trustworthy – soon Potiphar puts Joseph in charge of the entire estate
– Potiphar’s wife gets the hots for Joseph but he won’t betray his master’s trust or sin against God, so she has a temper tantrum and falsely accuses him of attempted rape
– Joseph goes to prison (no DNA evidence available to exonerate him) and while in prison
If there’s anyone who has reason to seek vengeance and hold on to resentment it would be Joseph. But forgiveness is the letting go of the need for vengeance and releasing negative thoughts of bitterness and resentment. It involves a willful decision to restructure thought life and cognitions regarding the offender and the offense.
Divine forgiveness and forgiveness between humans are central themes at the heart of biblical faith (Ps. 51:1-2; Matt. 6: 12-15).
GRACE-FILLED FORGIVENESS and the non-remembrance of offenses are scandalous, especially when extended to vile evildoers. We often feel a strong urge to reject forgiveness and non-remembrance towards bad people – those who really wound us deeply.
If I were Joseph I would probably have a serious grudge against the brothers who sold me away. Yet Joseph is the agent of God’s grace and kindness towards his brothers. They were to take a long time – and this is often the case even for us today – to appreciate and to fully receive the transforming loving-kindness of the Lord into the very depth of their beings. Joseph understood that beyond and above the foul schemings of his brothers, God was in control. It is the Lord himself that gives and reveals the ultimate and true meaning to history.
To forgive is to offer mercy to someone who has acted unjustly.
Grace in the Bible can also mean “favor” as in “find favor in his eyes” – the word occurs 101 times in Paul’s letters alone… In the Bible, forgiveness is primarily the act of God by which he graciously takes away the obstacles or barriers which separate man from His presence.
The New Testament word for forgiveness means “to send away.” Forgiveness does not excuse or minimize the hurtfulness of the other person’s act. Rather, it says, “Yes, you did a hurtful things to me. You did wrong.” But forgiveness is then acting mercifully and saying, “I choose not to hold that against you. I am sending away that grievance.”
We often have difficulties in forgiving others. Sometimes we think we have forgiven when we really haven’t. Sometimes we think that, to forgive, we must forget and act as if the hurt never happened. Offenses are not forgotten, but when forgiven they should not be brought up again. Other times we think we can forgive only after the person has suffered or made restitution. Revenge requires suffering and restitution, not forgiveness.
Letting go of the right for revenge has real benefits. It can lower blood pressure, reduce free-floating hostility associated with elevated cardiovascular problems, help you feel less stressed, fearful or depressed, and restore you spiritually to a better relationship with the Lord. When the Bible talks about forgiveness it’s not just about restoring relationships between people, it’s not just about modeling God’s behavior (the One who forgave us even when we didn’t deserve it) – it’s also about our OWN well-being.
Whatever you’ve been holding on to – it’s time to let it go. It’s time to let go of the need for vengeance and justice. It’s time to choose not to hold things against people, even if you’ve been wounded deeply.
So how can you start? First, ask God to remove the anger associated with the hurt. He can bring healing and forgiveness even when you don’t think it’s possible. Keep talking to God about it. Then there are three practical things you can do to start the process of letting go and forgiving people:
1) Write a hurting letter, listing how the person hurt you and how the hurts affected you – Read the letter to an empty chair where you cannot be overheard
2) Write a forgiveness letter – Read that letter to an empty chair
3) Destroy both letters as a symbol of releasing you pain and anger
Hate, anger, and unforgiveness will eat us up from the inside out if we don’t release it. It sucks the joy out of life.
It’s time to live a joy-filled life, and that means walking in forgiveness.