Why is Forgiveness so Hard? Part 1
Written by Guy M. Richard |
Saturday, March 18, 2023
We don’t like actually having something to forgive, because having something to forgive means that we have been hurt or offended. It means that a debt has been incurred. Having something to forgive signals the fact that something is not right. Pain or loss has come into our lives, a friend has betrayed us, a relationship that is near and dear to us has been broken. Forgiveness is difficult precisely because we have something to forgive.
There is an old and familiar adage that we have been using in the English language for at least 500 years. Its Latin roots may go back even further than that. The adage seems to have been initially used in regard to the formulation of military strategy but quickly began to be applied to other areas of life as well. This well-known saying goes like this: “to be forewarned is to be forearmed.” And what we mean is that the more we know about a situation or an event ahead of time, the more we will be prepared to face it if and when it actually comes to pass.
This is true of most things in our lives, and it is true of forgiveness as well. The more we know about the circumstances and considerations that make forgiveness so challenging, the more we can be on the lookout for those things when we face actual disagreement and conflict. The more aware we are of these circumstances and considerations, the better armed we will actually be to forgive when the occasion arises. With this in mind, we will give our attention to examining three main characteristics of forgiveness that contribute to making it so difficult—it is relational, costly, and humbling—and then we will look more closely at some of the practical questions that these things raise. In this post, we will consider the first two characteristics of forgiveness, and, in the next post, we will wrap things up by looking at the third characteristic and then give attention to some practical scenarios that all three of these characteristics raise.
Forgiveness is Relational
One of the things that makes forgiveness so challenging is the fact that it involves relationships. What I mean is that, in the Bible, forgiveness and reconciliation always go together. Forgiveness is always unto reconciliation. It is never an end in itself but always a means to the end of restoring a relationship that has been broken or damaged. The grand example of this would obviously be God’s forgiveness of us in and through Jesus Christ. This forgiveness is not an end in itself. God doesn’t forgive just for the sake of wiping the slate clean. He forgives in order that you and I might be reconciled to Him and restored to fellowship with Him forevermore. Reconciliation is the ultimate end that God is after. But reconciliation is impossible until and unless forgiveness has taken place, because, without forgiveness, you and I are still at enmity with God as a result of our sin against Him.
This is precisely what the apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:19, for instance, when he explicitly links forgiveness and reconciliation: “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” Reconciliation, according to Paul, is impossible for anyone if God is still “counting their trespasses against them.” Those trespasses must first be forgiven. Then restoration or reconciliation can rightly take place. Forgiveness is, therefore, always unto the restoration of a relationship or, as we have said above, forgiveness is always relational.
We see the same idea implicitly in passages like Hebrews 8:12 and 10:17, both of which cite the beautiful reality expressed in Jeremiah 31:34, namely, that God will “remember [our] sins no more.” Now, we know these verses don’t mean to suggest that God will wipe our sins from His memory bank. That is not possible. God is omniscient; He knows everything—everything that has happened, everything that will happen, and everything that could happen. When God says He will remember our sins no more, He is not saying that He ceases to be omniscient when He forgives. He is speaking relationally. He is telling us that He will not hold our sins against us in terms of how He relates to us. He will not treat us in light of our sins but will treat us as if we had never committed any of them, because He has forgiven them already. This means that forgiveness must be a relational category. It is unto the restoration of the relationship that has been broken by our sin.