The Bible talks a lot about forgiveness and our need to forgive. Growing up in the church, we heard often that being forgiven and forgiving others is important. Sometimes the messages we received were cloaked in shame with a certain element of having to forgive because it’s expected.
Brian Hardin, creator and voice of the Daily Audio Bible, is an ordained minister, record producer of over 100 albums, and best-selling author, including his most recent work, “The One Year Adventure with the God of Your Story”. He shares insight on what the Bible says about forgiveness and why it matters. Not only is Brian an incredible conduit for ministry and sharing encouragement through God’s word but he also experienced the loss of his marriage when he went through a painful divorce and became a solo parent. He went through a season raising his sons alone for several years. At that time, he didn’t have resources like Solo Parent Society to plug in to and talk about what he was going through. It was an upside-down season that didn’t feel like his life. He was blindsided by his marriage falling apart. It came out of nowhere and he didn’t know how to move forward.
Brian found himself having to forgive and he knew it was going to take time. He was in shock but didn’t even realize it. He didn’t have anyone to coach him through the anger, resentment, and bitterness before migrating toward release and forgiveness. And the steps weren’t linear. He would take ten steps forward and then back track into anger again. It was messy and unclear. Only in looking back, can he see that it was the process of coming to a place of openhanded release. He slowly and intermittently was uncovering the feelings of hurt, anger, betrayal and bitterness and gradually entering the process of forgiveness.
Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in the book of Matthew includes The Lord’s Prayer which says, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We know these familiar words and the next thing Jesus says after that prayer is that if we forgive others, so will our Father in heaven forgive us. And if we don’t then neither will our Father forgive us. Brian shares that, in these words, “We see that this [forgiveness] is a fundamental reality in the life of faith.” Jesus’ very life demonstrated this truth. On the cross, he asks his Father to forgive those who crucified him. Paul who was abandoned and damaged by those who came against him in his trial prays to God and asks them not to be held to account for that. In the Old Testament, the people of Israel were continually unfaithful to God and yet He kept calling them back to Him, forgiving and restoring them. Forgiveness as a practice is woven throughout the Bible.
In the church, it is assumed that we must forgive as an act of obedience. Intellectually, we know that forgiveness is something we are called to do but often we don’t feel like it. Our pain, hurt, betrayal, anger, and sense of injustice keep us tied up and unwilling to forgive. Yet, in the examples of Paul, Stephen who asked for his murderers to be forgiven, and in Jesus himself, they didn’t feel a certain way before they chose to forgive. Their circumstances weren’t fair. They offered forgiveness despite the injustice that was happening to them.
As Western Christians, that is a hard pill to swallow. We are so used to our rights and our comforts being honored. We often feel entitled to seek justice when someone wrongs us, so when our ex betrays us or we feel angry at God because of a hurt or loss we suffered, forgiveness is an exercise in discipline. It doesn’t mean the pain goes away or that the wrong is made right, but we are still called to forgive.
Brian shares that he doesn’t look at forgiveness as a list of steps to go through. In his experience, forgiveness doesn’t follow a list or an order. You can make the choice to forgive and let go of a desire to punish someone who wronged you. You can walk in freedom with that and then the very next day or even that evening something can happen where the anger will rise again, and you go right back to square one. When we make a list of steps for forgiveness, we are mapping out a way to fail.
One thing Brian knows won’t help is “stuffing it” or “just moving past it”. Ignoring what is going on inside of you results in cognitive dissonance where we say we’ve forgiven but we still feel torn up inside. If we stuff whatever experiences we’ve had, the hurt becomes like “mold in the basement” that grows bigger and bigger as we ignore it. Forgiveness isn’t ignoring our pain or pretending something hurtful didn’t happen. Rather, forgiveness is an opportunity to acknowledge what happened, feel it, and accept that we are powerless over the pain of it. As we let ourselves experience that pain, we can give that hurt to God, repeatedly.
Forgiveness is ubiquitous. It’s something we must keep choosing. The steps we take are toward freedom, in a general direction toward God and trusting Him with our pain. Forgiveness is not a destination or an event. A three step plan doesn’t work for everybody. Our circumstances are so unique and so is the process of forgiveness.
Jake Smith of Plumline shared that if we ignore our hurts they turn into resentment and if the resentment goes unchecked, it turns into a desire for revenge. Only in feeling the hurt and accepting the sadness and grief related to our pain can we experience freedom. If we don’t deal with our pain, it becomes toxic and destructive. This is a common theme in forgiveness. If we don’t forgive, it becomes a bitter root in our hearts that causes harm, to ourselves and to others. When we forgive, we find the doorway to freedom from those destructive paths.
Brian says when we experience tragedy, we can choose to forgive that situation, but we will always have new things to forgive. When hurt comes, our first response is often shock and awe, pain, and rage, and feeling as if we somehow have to “level this”, somehow, we need justice and retribution. If we take that path to its end, we will slowly find ourselves chained to a life we never wanted. We will end up somewhere we never wanted to go.
The path of forgiveness is just as slow, but it produces different results. It leads us to freedom and to a place where we have hope. That’s how it was for Brian. He couldn’t have labeled those transitions that way then, but he found himself going through shock, bitterness, anger, justice, acceptance, and then back to justice again. It was a back and forth process where something had to give, or he was going to remain trapped. He finally got to the end of himself. In his cries out to God, he found closeness with God. God met him there and helped him keep moving toward forgiveness.
Brian shares each of us will walk the journey of forgiveness differently but it’s necessary. If we choose NOT to forgive, we will move toward death. Only in moving toward forgiveness - however messily, however slowly, however much we go back and forth - will we move toward life.
And this is the story of God. As we receive forgiveness from Him, we move toward life, hope, and freedom too. If we run from our need for forgiveness, we stay in death, despair, and destruction. And God is continually calling us to choose life. Jesus says in John 10: 10, “I have come to give you life and life abundantly.” Both in receiving forgiveness and offering it, we find life.
As single parents, there is often so much pain in how we got here and in all we are dealing with now. If we ignore the pain, it can become like a toxic mold that continues to grow in our soul. Only in paying attention to it, and choosing to bring it to God, intentionally, regularly, repeatedly as needed, do we avoid the toxicity from taking over. This is why forgiveness matters.
As we start on the path of feeling the hurt, sadness, and anger, and choosing to let go, we find ourselves releasing resentment. But it’s not easy. It is a struggle. As we move in the direction of forgiveness and freedom, we may feel hurt again. Forgiveness is not a one-time event or a fixed point. Forgiveness is an ongoing experience and journey. Our need to forgive others, and our need to be forgiven ourselves, is constant. We must live in a posture of forgiveness, both giving and receiving, all the time. Forgiveness is woven throughout the Bible. It’s a reciprocal ebb and flow. As we live this way, where we don’t dwell or obsess on harms done to us, and we seek to be forgiven for harms we have done, we find hope and abundant life again. This posture allows us to reclaim our energy and walk in freedom and hope.