One of the scariest verses in all of Scripture has to be Matthew 6:14–15, where Jesus said, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” This is one of those verses that you’ll never see on a t-shirt, coffee mug, or desktop screen-saver with roses in the background.
This is not a popular verse because it digs deep into the uncomfortable areas of our lives and deals with some difficult actions on our part. It teaches us that if we’re going to be recipients of God’s grace, then we must give grace to others. Jesus gives the challenge that if you don’t forgive others it may be proof that you’ve never truly received God’s forgiveness yourself.
Or, in a positive glorious implication, He is teaching us that the most practical way to show the world that we understand the Gospel of forgiveness is by showing the world that we know how to forgive.
So, what is forgiveness? One of the best definitions on forgiveness comes from—of all places—Wikipedia, where it’s described as “the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, lets go of negative emotions such as vengefulness, with an increased ability to wish the offender well.”
Wow! True forgiveness is not just “letting go” of anger, bitterness and resentment, but, it’s also wishing well for the one who hurt you. Am I able truly to pray to God for someone? Not just praying and “informing” God of their transgressions but actually asking the Lord to bless that person. Now, that is extremely difficult, isn’t it?
Let’s be honest. Most of our unforgiveness and bitterness is caused by some really silly and trivial situations. However, there are stories that involve true heartbreaks, letdowns and victimizations. In these kinds of stories, forgiveness can only come from God because it takes a God-sized forgiveness. And, it’s in stories like these that myths about forgiveness seem to handicap us, confuse us and keep us from truly experiencing victory.
So, let’s identify some of the myths about forgiveness, and call them what they are: myths.
Myth: Forgiveness means you have to forget.
Unfortunately, you don’t have a Neuralyzer from the movie Men in Black that causes your memory to be erased if you look into its flash. Memories are very real, especially if they’re memories wrapped in hurt. They may always be there. However, there is a wonderful opportunity to operate in a lifestyle of saying, “I have not been able to forget. I remember it very well, and yet by God’s grace I still choose to forgive.”
Myth: Forgiveness means that you’re condoning their actions.
Many times we feel that choosing to forgive is saying that what a particular person did to us was okay. However, this is a myth. Forgiveness is trusting God to be the ultimate and perfect judge. He knows how to settle our disputes much better than we do. After all, He’s the expert at dealing with sinners and sinful actions, not us. Let’s not forget how He has perfectly dealt with our sinful actions towards others.
Myth: Forgiveness means you have to be a doormat.
Often, we’re terrified to forgive because we’re scared to be hurt over and over again. However, forgiveness doesn’t mean that I have to subject myself to being continually abused and used. In fact, I could be guilty of enabling a person if I’m their doormat. Forgiveness means that I’m going to protect and free myself from you by not carrying bitterness with me.
Myth: Forgiveness means you have to be friends.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you have to continually be “close” or “friends” with someone. Sometimes, the healthiest thing for two people is distance. We’re commanded by Scripture to forgive, love and be kind to others; however, nowhere in Scripture are we commanded to be friends with everyone.
Myth: Forgiveness comes from an apology.
Sometimes we think that the two words, “I’m sorry” are supposed to heal all wounds. However, true forgiveness can’t come from a pithy statement, but rather, an all-powerful God. God must first forgive the one who is doing the forgiving; then the forgiving one must truly experience and enjoy God’s forgiveness. Then and only then can that person be in a healthy place to allow God to grant forgiveness through them to the transgressor. In short, forgiveness comes from God, not us.
Myth: Forgiveness is based on the other person’s actions.
Often, people will say, “I will forgive that person when they ask me for it and start doing things to deserve my forgiveness.” However, this is a myth because we’re commanded to forgive, whether someone asks for it or not. Victory in this area is going to come from obedience to God and not other people’s actions. Remember, grace is giving something to someone, even when they don’t deserve it.
Myth: Forgiveness is easy.
Sadly, forgiveness is not easy. It’s also not difficult. Forgiveness is actually impossible. In our natural state, we want to hold onto unforgiveness, bitterness and anger because on some level it makes us feel in control. We want that person to hurt like we hurt. We simply can’t change these feelings on our own. However, the good news is that we have a God that makes the impossible, possible. “For nothing will be impossible with God (Luke 1:37).”
Although, there are many myths about forgiveness, there is only one Truth. The truth is that bitterness, unforgiveness and anger are a heavy and miserable load to carry. Therefore, it’s time to truly experience the victory of forgiveness that can only be found in Christ by laying that heavy burden down at His feet. “For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:30).