It’s real. Someone hurt you, badly.
There was a betrayal of trust, a callous insult, a rejection or an abuse. Now, you are seething with anger inside. Since the incident, bitterness has become your constant companion.
We’ve all heard that forgiveness will free and heal us, but at what cost? Two things may set the price too high:
- Does this mean my offender will get off scot-free?
- Will I have to allow the person who hurt me back in my life?
Previously in this series, we talked about the freedom forgiveness brings https://rogerross.online/jail-break-getting-free-from-unforgiveness/. When we release people from our retribution, we’re the ones who make a jail break. Forgiveness may not change them, but it sets us free.
What About Paybacks?
However, freedom for us does not deal with justice for them. If we don’t keep harboring hatred, who will hold them accountable?
Maybe God would be a better candidate. Ever wondered why the Lord says, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay” Romans 12:9 (NRSV)?
There are at least two reasons. First, God alone sees exactly what happened, knows the depth of the wrong, and feels personally the pain. Perhaps is it better to allow the all-knowing God to mete out justice based on a perfect love for every person and true accountability. We can trust God for that.
Second, the stickier problem with exacting revenge is it doesn’t heal. It doesn’t allow us to let go of the grief and pain. Making the person who hurt us pay does not set us free from the past. It chains us to it.
Of course, that leaves a lingering question, “Does forgiving my offender mean I have to allow that person back in my life?”
In a word, no. When we have been hurt deeply, personally, and unfairly, we can forgive our offenders whether they ask for it or not. Forgiveness is not dependent on their awareness or participation.
A Different Story
However, reconciliation is a different story. To restore the relationship, the one who committed the wrong must confess and repent or turn away from that wrongful behavior.
For instance, if a husband has an affair, his wife can forgive him, but that does not mean the ruptured relationship will automatically be reconciled. The husband needs to confess his wrong, seriously commit to turning away from that behavior, and provide time for trust to be rebuilt. Even then, the relationship may not survive.
Forgiveness is what makes reconciliation possible. God’s forgiveness of our sin offered in Jesus was to bring about a reconciled relationship with the Lover of our soul. Scripture says it this way,
God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.2 Corinthians 5:19 (NIV)
God’s heart is to reconcile and restore, but sometimes we can’t complete the circle. The person we need to forgive may be dead. We may have lost track of her. It may be unsafe to invite him back into our lives.
Let’s be clear, forgiveness is not dependent on bringing our offender back into our lives, nor does forgiving always lead to reconciliation.
Forgiveness only opens that door if our offender is repentant, and we deem it safe to allow that possibility. The reconciliation ball is in our court, not our offender’s. When we choose to play it, miraculous things can happen.
Mary Johnson lost her son in 1993 after a then-teenaged Oshea Israel got into a fight with him at a party and shot him. It plunged Mary into a world of grief and anger. With so many questions unanswered, she decided to visit Oshea in jail.
After their first contact, she told him, “I began to feel this movement in my feet, It moved up my legs, and it just moved up my body. When I felt it leave me, I instantly knew that all that anger and hatred and animosity I had in my heart for you for 12 years was over. I had totally forgiven you.”
The two later lived as neighbors in the same duplex, and Mary has even referred to Oshea as her “son” in interviews. Oshea’s message to Mary is heartfelt. “I admire you for your being brave enough to offer forgiveness, and for being brave enough to take that step. It motivates me to make sure that I stay on the right path.” (https://www.rd.com/list/inspiring-forgiveness-stories/)
No doubt forgiveness comes at a high price, but the cost of nurturing hatred in our hearts is greater.
Forgiving For Real
As we consider who and how to forgive, we may wonder, “What if the person I need to forgive is me?” I’ll talk about that next week.
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A native of Cambridge, Illinois, Roger has served as a pastor in Texas, the British Channel Island of Guernsey, and Illinois. While in Illinois, he led teams that planted two new churches and served for 10 years as senior pastor of First United Methodist Church of Springfield. It was his privilege to serve as the Director of Congregational Excellence in the Missouri Conference before coming into his current role as an executive coach and specialist with Spiritual Leadership, Inc. (SLI). His passions include SCUBA diving in warm blue water, playing board games with family and friends, and teaching evangelism and church planting as an adjunct professor at SMU’s Perkins School of Theology. He also has a weakness for golf. Roger is the author of three books, “Meet The Goodpeople: Wesley’s 7 Ways to Share Faith,” “Come Back: Returning to the Life You Were Made For,” and “Come Back Participant Guide,” all through Abingdon Press. Roger is married to Leanne Klein Ross, and they have two adult children, Zach and Jane (who’s married to Sam).