I watched Tammy Faye Messner on Larry King this past week. Say what you will about her past or present lifestyle, she hit the nail on the head when Larry asked her about her relationship to those who hurt her during the PTL ordeal. She explained that the way she has moved beyond those horrific days has been through forgiveness. “Forgiveness is the best gift you can give yourself,” she said.
She compared the bondage of unforgiveness with the ancient practice of forcing a murderer to carry his victim on his back while his body decomposes. In the end, the victim would cause the death of the murderer due to disease. “Maybe you’re carrying somebody on your back,” Tammy Faye exhorted viewers. “If so, put them down!”
Forgiveness is the deliberate choice to release a person from any obligation they have toward you as a result of any offense they have committed against you. Unforgiveness is like a cancer that slowly eats away at you. It usually doesn’t hurt your offender, only you.
Buddy Hackett once said, “I’ve had a few arguments with people, but I never carry a grudge. You know why? While you’re carrying a grudge, they’re out dancing.” He’s right. To refuse to forgive is to allow the hurt which was done to you continue to control and debilitate you. The other person goes right on with their life while you sentence yourself to prison.
Is there someone you need to forgive? C.S. Lewis said, “We all agree that forgiveness is a beautiful idea until we have to practice it.” How does one practice forgiveness? It is a choice. You don’t forgive people because you feel like it. Forgiveness doesn’t come from the emotions, but from the will. To say that we can’t forgive somebody is to believe a lie. You can forgive anybody.
What is our reason for forgiving others? It’s the fact that we ourselves have been forgiven for so much. Only a Pharisee will fail to recognize that fact. General Oglethorpe once said to John Wesley, “I never forgive and I never forget.” To which Wesley replied, “Then, Sir, I hope you never sin.” The truth is that we have all sinned and, if God has forgiven us, we can forgive others.
The Apostle Paul wrote,”And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32). We can forgive because we have been forgiven.
“But they don’t deserve to be forgiven!” you may protest. Of course they don’t. Forgiveness is an act of grace. If they deserved it, it wouldn’t be forgiveness. It would be justice.
“But they aren’t sorry!” some may insist. So what? They don’t have to be sorry for us to forgive. Forgiveness initiates with our choice, not another person’s regret about their actions.
“But I don’t want them in my life!” somebody might argue. Don’t mistakenly think that just because you forgive someone, you must now make them your best friend. To truly forgive and yet decide that the relationship doesn’t need to continue are two decisions that can be totally compatible with each other.
There are many excuses we can give for refusing to forgive those who have hurt us, but here is no good reason. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you if you hold unforgiveness in your heart toward anybody. If you do, forgive! It is a key to freedom. I’ve met many who regretted that they allowed bitterness to effectively destroy them, but I’ve never met anybody who said they were sorry that they chose to forgive.
The Bible says to “forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you” (Colossians 3:13, The Message). Will you do it?