Blog – Christian Counseling
By Guy Ascherman, MA, LMFT, LPCC, Life Coach
Why Christian Therapy? Part 6 of 10 – Forgiveness
Blog 6 of 10 – Forgiveness
(For a more thorough treatment of this subject, I recommend the book, “Forgive and Forget” by Smedes.)
Everyone has been hurt by the words or actions of another. The closer we are to the offender, the deeper it cuts. These wounds can leave us with lasting feelings of anger, bitterness, and even vengeance, believing incorrectly that these feelings help us to heal. Are these feelings justified? Maybe. Healthy? No. Let’s explore a bit.
The Lord teaches that justice and vengeance belong to Him and His appointed servants in the courts, the legislative writing of laws, and the enforcement of those laws. Justice is not wrong. Jesus dying for sinners was to satisfy the justice of God. If someone wrongs another, they should suffer the consequences of their actions. That is a good definition for merited justice. We have all felt the sting of injustice. But we are not the instruments of justice, of righting wrongs against us. Additionally, most of the hurts we feel are not the direct result of breaking laws.
Before you misunderstand me, I am not speaking of enabling those who are perpetual offenders. We have every right to lovingly confront others to resolve our wounds, and to draw appropriate boundaries. It is not okay for others to treat us poorly. Whether or not we can reconcile with another does not mean the feelings of bitterness and anger are gone. Sometimes the offender is not known. We can be victims of a non-personal nature, such as bureaucratic agencies, a hurricane, or a hit and run accident. In these cases reconciliation is not possible. These feelings are very difficult to release. They can be a cancer that eats away at our soul.
In contrast to our understanding of merited justice that God alone can measure out, Grace is described as being the unmerited favor of one person to another, in spite of wrong doings between them. Clearly God is our model. We do not deserve the favor of God on our lives and person. God is offering to the world the opportunity to experience His Grace, which is completely unmerited. That is a hard act to follow!
But what happens when we hold onto our anger and bitterness? How does forgiveness help to make us healthier and happier people? The Mayo Clinic states, “What are the effects of holding a grudge? If you’re unforgiving, you might:
- Bring anger and bitterness into every relationship and new experience.
- Become so wrapped up in the wrong that you can’t enjoy the present.
- Become depressed or anxious.
- Feel that your life lacks meaning or purpose, or that you’re at odds with your spiritual beliefs.
- Lose valuable and enriching connectedness with others
Generally, forgiveness is a decision to let go of resentment and thoughts of revenge. The act that hurt or offended you might always remain a part of your life, but forgiveness can lessen its grip on you and help you focus on other, more positive parts of your life. Forgiveness can even lead to feelings of understanding, empathy and compassion for the one who hurt you.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you deny the other person’s responsibility for hurting you, and it doesn’t minimize or justify the wrong. You can forgive the person without excusing the act. Forgiveness brings a kind of peace that helps you go on with life. Forgiveness can lead to:
- Healthier relationships.
- Greater spiritual and psychological well-being.
- Less anxiety, stress and hostility.
- Lower blood pressure.
- Fewer symptoms of depression.
- Stronger immune system.
- Improved heart health.
- Higher self-esteem. (See previous blogs regarding self-esteem.)
Forgiveness is essential to emotional health. Bitterness, anger, and blame shifting keep one from reaching a place of peace and accepting responsibility for their own emotions. Forgiveness is a process that requires time and deep processing. But it is something far more than just “getting over it.” And it is the responsibility of the one offended, not the offender.
At the center of forgiveness one must answer this question; “Who will be responsible for the pain created by injustices we experience?” This is the emotional side of forgiveness. Jesus Christ modeled forgiveness both legally and emotionally. The Lord experiences emotional pain when we fail to acknowledge Him. When we sin against Him, He suffers. How He handled pain is how we should. His pain and love for us drove Him to a place where reconciliation could be realized. God and man can live in love and unity. But only because God chose to accept the pain we inflicted upon Him, and die for us. Concerning our sin and His pain, Jesus is essentially saying to the human race, as He cries out from the cross, “This one is on Me.” “I’ve got you covered.” “I will not make you pay for my pain. I will pay.” “It is finished.” And His death on the cross is His payment for our sin, and His resurrection is the proof that the penalty was satisfied.
Jesus is the only perfect human being who has ever lived. Having to die for other people’s sins is completely unjust. Likewise, having to pay for the offenses of others against us is unfair. But Jesus’ sacrifice teaches us the meaning of Grace, the unmerited favor of God, by accepting the penalty of others. Forgiveness is found when a victim follows the pattern of Jesus when experiencing pain at the hand of another, and bears it without revenge, hate, bitterness, or recourse. Jesus did this for us. With His help, we can do it for others. When we recognize our own sinfulness, we see people with empathy.
Colossians 3:13–15 – 13 Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.
No secular psychological orientation has as complete a provision for healing emotional pain as Christianity. When people experience emotional pain, forgiveness begins to be realized as one accepts the injustice of the offender, and bears the pain as Jesus did.