The topic of forgiveness seems to be over-complicated these days. Modern-day “theologians” are adding their own twists to the concept of forgiveness. They make it complicated. They make forgiveness difficult to understand.
Forgiveness is simple. Forgiveness never changes. For me, I have found forgiveness to be really no different than how I had learned it as a child. Recently, I have found myself harboring unforgiveness and still holding things against others. In examining myself, the Holy Spirit has taught me that forgiveness is not an emotion. It is also not being sorry or simply waiting until your feelings change. Forgiveness is a choice.
A few years back I had a friend who hurt me badly. She said some things that were not true, and it was hard for me to understand. It made me angry and bitter. I would allow myself to dwell on the situation over and over again. I would replay what happened in my mind. This constant replay would fuel the fire of anger and bitterness inside of me. My emotions were like a bomb just waiting to be detonated. I was so confused about how someone could not be angry. I was simply so angry for so long that I thought everyone must harbor anger. I wrestled with the verse, “Be angry, and do not sin: do not let the sun go down on your wrath,” (Ephesians 4:26).
I had Christian brothers and sisters tell me that I needed to forgive my friend. I knew that the Bible says, “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do,” (Colossians 3: 12-13). I struggled with that verse daily because I did not want to forgive my friend. Yet, I still wanted to please the Lord.
So what changed? I was able to forgive my friend when I realized that forgiveness was a choice. I had to choose to forgive. That meant that once I chose to forgive, that I would have to choose not to replay or rehearse the situation with my friend anymore. It is not that the situation would not come back to my mind. What changed is that each time it came to my mind, I would choose to stop thinking about it. I would tell myself, “No, I have forgiven my friend. I will not think about this anymore. I must let it go.”
I learned clearly that forgiveness is a choice, but I actually learned more than just that. I also learned that when you forgive, you do not have to “forget” the transgression. I used to think that with forgiveness you also had to forget everything that happened. I thought if you forgave, then you had to move on with the relationship the same way like nothing ever happened. That is actually not true. You don’t have to forget and act like it never happened. I actually used that situation as information for how to continue a relationship with my friend. One thing you have to remember is that forgiveness can involve just one person. Relationships always involve two people. Sometimes after you forgive the other person, the relationship will not be mended. It may not be the same as it was before. In fact, it may not be the same at all. If you have truly forgiven the person, the Holy Spirit will guide you on how the relationship should be in the future or if changes need to take place. Perhaps in some severe situations, God may guide you into not continuing the relationship at all.
The biggest thing I had to learn was that forgiveness is a choice. By God’s grace, Christ forgave us of our sins so that we can have a relationship with God. I am so thankful that God forgave me through Jesus and now I can choose to forgive others.
This blog was written by Natalie Bymaster, author of From the Cliff to the Cure: How Christians Can Boldly Overcome the Lies of Mental Illness. If you liked this content, make sure to check out her book.