The command to forgive and the reasons to forgive are clear. Still, the act of forgiveness can often be difficult to execute. Letting go of the hurt, the bitterness, and the memories is not always easy. While some offenses require only a one-time letting go, others necessitate a process of forgiveness that takes times, discipline, and help. Thankfully, there are practical steps we can take in the journey of forgiving.
When I was a high school senior, my childhood pastor, Frank Cox, preached a sermon on forgiveness that I have never forgotten. He gave this analogy of unforgiveness - that of keeping your offender in the dungeon of your mind. There, you are able to mentally rehearse his offenses and heap all kinds of vengeance upon him. The hurt and the pain live on through each mental rehearsal, and you feel justified as you imagine the many ways you can exact justice.
But the one you are really hurting is yourself.
Like all of God's commands for our lives, forgiveness is for our good. It is not merely beneficial for the one forgiven; in fact, forgiveness benefits the one offended in many ways. To release your offender from the dungeon of your mind is to release all of the bitterness, anger, and hurt that are actually keeping you in captivity.
Once again, we learn to forgive from the One who has forgiven us. Here is the first principle we learn on forgiveness:
"I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins." Isaiah 43:25
"For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." Jeremiah 31:34
"For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” Hebrews 8:12
We often hear people say, "Forgive and forget." But we must clarify something regarding God's forgiveness. It is not as if, once we repent, our Sovereign God suffers from a sort of divine amnesia and simply forgets all of our sins. Instead, He chooses not to remember them. As far as the east is from the west, God casts our sins from His memory (Ps. 103:12). It is a conscious and active decision He makes. Because He is perfect, He is able to choose not to remember, and He is able to do this with finality. He declares us pure, and we are pure (Is. 1:18).
And so we find our first practical principle of forgiveness: choosing not to remember. Releasing your offender means letting go of the memory, no longer playing it over and over in your mind. In other words, it is time to let your offender out of the dungeon in your mind. Because we are in an imperfect world and we are imperfect people, it will often take discipline and a continual choice to not remember.
Does this mean, then, that we "let it go" in the sense that we are saying no wrongdoing has been committed? Do we pretend that we have never been hurt at all?
To answer this question, we return to Psalm 55. In this Psalm, David is calling out to God in despair and heartbreak as he wrestles with betrayal from a close friend. It would be good for you to read the chapter as a whole, but for now we will examine the closing verses of this chapter.
"But I call to God, and the Lord will save me. Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan, and He hears my voice. He redeems my soul in safety from the battle that I wage...Cast your burden on the Lord, and He will sustain you; He will never permit the righteous to be moved. But You, O God, will cast them down into the pit of destruction; men of blood and treachery shall not live out half their days. But I will trust in You." Psalm 55:16-17, 22-23
When we have been betrayed, we turn over to God the offenses of our betrayer, and we trust Him to be the Righteous Judge. It is not our responsibility to make sure our offender repents. It is not our duty to ensure those who betray us suffer the consequences of their sins. This principle of forgiveness is one of surrender and trust. We believe that God, in His infinite wisdom, righteousness, and grace, will deal with our offenders. Our only duty is to release these offenders to Him.
Today, we have examined two aspects of "letting go" that are required of forgiveness. First, we release our offenders from the dungeons of our minds. We choose not to remember their offenses, even if our offenders never come to us in repentance. Second, we let go of any right to exact justice, and we trust God to right any wrongs. This also means that we allow God the right to extend grace and mercy to our offenders, just as He has done for us.
As you release your offender and trust God to work His good in the situation, you find freedom from the offense(s). No longer will the bitterness, anger, hurt, or whatever other feelings you harbor from those transgressions, be allowed to live on in your heart. Forgiving others sets us free from the offenses in a most beautiful and redemptive way. Genuine people are not ruled by the sins and transgressions of others. Genuine people are ruled by the Spirit of Christ, in all His righteousness, grace, and mercy.