I knew I needed to forgive. Even as a non-Christian, I knew it would not be healthy to hold onto all the anger I felt after my dad’s murder. For many years, I tried to forgive. I tried to move on, but without God in my life, I ended up burying my anger instead. Like a seed in fertile ground, my anger was effectively planted, yielding the corrosive fruit of bitterness that resided deep within my heart.
You see, I had mistakenly subscribed to the “forgive and forget” mentality this world puts forth, but this way of thinking does not lead us toward true forgiveness or healing. Following the “forgive and forget” model only represses emotions––it does not heal them.
I did not know real forgiveness––what it looked like, what it was, or how to do it––until Jesus showed me nine years after the murder, as He led me on a crazy messy journey to forgive the man who murdered my dad. I can honestly say that I learned way more than I ever thought I’d know on this topic throughout that journey, and what still strikes me is how many misconceptions I had about forgiveness prior to that season of my life.
The concept of forgiveness is thrown arounds so frequently, both in Christian and non-Christian circles alike, and quite honestly, I wonder how much of what is said is actually true. When we speak about forgiveness, are we promoting the model given to us by Jesus or the influences of our culture and the world? Let’s take a look at some of the most common misconceptions about forgiveness that I’ve come across.
Forgiveness is not proud.
Biblical forgiveness is humble. It does not hold forgiveness over the head of the offender, making the offender even more indebted to you as a result of the grace you’ve extended. True forgiveness requires us to humble ourselves to the point that we know, without a doubt, that we too, like our offender, are sinners in desperate need of grace. I once heard someone say that we cannot judge the sins of others more harshly than we judge our own simply because their sin looks different than ours. I like that. We all sin, and we all need grace.
Forgiveness is not justifying, diminishing, approving of, or enabling sin.
What happened to you––what happened to me––was not okay. It will never be okay. Sin is not something God takes lightly, and neither should we. When we forgive, we are in no way justifying, diminishing, approving of, or enabling the sin that was committed, but instead, we are simply stepping down off the judgment seat (which was never our proper place to begin with), allowing God to take His rightful place as Judge. Romans 12:19 says, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’”
Forgiveness does not wait for an apology or repentance.
Our forgiveness is not contingent upon the condition of the offender’s heart. As Jesus hung on the cross, He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). He extended grace and forgiveness to those who were in the process of murdering Him, which is the example we all must follow.
Forgiveness does not release the offender from their consequences.
We all must face consequences for our actions. Scripture tells us that we reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7). Forgiveness does not negate the natural ramifications of sin.
Forgiveness is not suppressing your feelings.
For many years, I thought that if I just didn’t go there. If I didn’t allow myself to feel the hatred toward the man who murdered my dad that it would eventually go away. And quite honestly, it seemed to work for a while. I didn’t see the signs of my anger on the surface, which allowed me to mistakenly think that I had forgiven. But I hadn’t. All those feelings I had suppressed for so long were still there, deep within my heart. My unresolved, suppressed anger had turned to bitterness that slowly began to resurface in the form of irritability and anger. We don’t achieve forgiveness by not allowing ourselves to feel, but by taking those feelings and emotions to Jesus. By laying them before our God. By praying for God to heal our broken hearts and lead us toward true Biblical forgiveness.
Forgiveness is not one time event.
Forgiveness is a process. It does not happen overnight. It takes prayer and a commitment to follow Jesus. This commitment will need to be made over and over again until you’ve been given grace to forgive. But once you’ve come to that place of forgiveness, you must trust that it is finished. Satan will tempt you with doubts about whether or not your forgiveness is complete, especially if your offender does something else that bothers you, but you need to trust what God has done in you. You may have to forgive additional offenses in the future, but the need to forgive separate offenses does not negate your forgiveness of the previous offenses of your past.
Forgiveness is not placing trust in the offender.
Forgiveness does not require us to place our trust in the one who hurt us. Some people should never be trusted. But there are others who have simply made a mistake. They’ve repented of their sin, and they can and should be trusted. Discernment is needed to determine which is the case in your situation. It is important to pray about this matter. To ask Jesus to restore your trust in your offender only if it is His will for you to do so.
Forgiveness is not for the benefit of the offender.
Forgiveness is a command intended to benefit the one who gives it. Where there is no forgiveness, there is deep seeded bitterness which leads to destruction. Forgiveness is not a blessing primarily for the offender, but for the one who holds onto the offense.
Forgiveness is not reconciliation.
Forgiveness and reconciliation are two separate things. God commands us to forgive in every situation, without exception, but we are not always called to reconcile. Romans 12:18 tells us, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” So far as it depends on you––this is the key. Reconciliation is not always possible, but when it is, we are called to it.
Forgiveness is central to the gospel. It’s what Jesus died to give us––the forgiveness of sins. It’s what reconciles us to the Father, allowing us to be in relationship with the Creator and Sustainer of all. It’s the very thing that gives us life.
The concept of forgiveness is thrown around so flippantly that its power can easily become dull to our senses, but it is the very thing that can change our lives, allowing us to live the life Jesus died for us to have. And so we cannot continue to allow this blessing to be watered down by societal misconceptions. We need to hold fast to true Biblical forgiveness, for apart from it, we will not thrive.
Any thoughts? Share in the comments.
Want to dig deeper or hear the incredibly true story about what God did during my forgiveness journey? Check out my new book, Letters from My Father’s Murderer: A Journey of Forgiveness! Though it’s not officially released isn’t until June 27th, I’ve heard Amazon is shipping them out EARLY! Order today!
* This article was originally written for iBelieve.com.