Naturally, people don’t like to (and, frankly, don’t want to) forgive. We want to hold on to bitterness because we think if we forgive people who have hurt us, it’s the same as condoning their actions. It’s saying what they did is okay. It’s an admission you have to be close with them again. That is not true at all.
God is the judge of us, and He will judge appropriately. Bitterness, lack of forgiveness and grudges often harm the one holding on to them the most. However, when we forgive we essentially tell someone they can’t destroy us, end us or hinder us any longer, because our God heals. He is better than bitterness. Forgiveness shows the world we understand how much God has forgiven us.
Let’s be honest, most of our lack of forgiveness and bitterness stem from trivial situations, but some stories involve true victims. In these types of stories, forgiveness can come only from God, because those types of hurts take a God-sized forgiveness to heal. Forgiving someone is the hardest work we can do, but we must absolutely do it. Not forgiving makes you toxic. And then you have little to offer your family, the world or your neighbors because your bitterness can spread to others.
One of the most sobering verses in all of Scripture is Matthew 6:14–15, where Jesus said, “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.”
You’ll never see this verse on a Christian T-shirt, coffee mug or desktop screen saver. It digs deep into the uncomfortable areas of our lives and deals with some of our most difficult actions. It teaches us if we’re going to be recipients of God’s grace, we must give grace to others. Jesus gives the challenge that if we don’t forgive others, it may be proof we’ve never truly received God’s forgiveness ourselves. Or, in a positively glorious implication, He is teaching us the most practical way to show the world we understand forgiveness in our own lives is by showing that we know how to forgive.
It’s very clear in Scripture we are commanded to forgive. However, what about reconciliation? Is it possible to forgive someone but not reconcile with them? Is it possible to reconcile with someone without forgiving them? Are forgiveness and reconciliation one and the same? In short, no. It is possible to forgive someone without reconciling with them, but it is not possible to reconcile with someone without forgiving them.
Sometimes, the confusion over reconciliation and forgiveness hinders us from forgiveness itself. Forgiveness is a must, and ideally, reconciliation should be an ancillary component of that forgiveness. However, while forgiveness is always plausible, reconciliation is not always possible. Not every situation is healthy enough to support reconciliation, after all.
It’s possible to forgive someone without reconciling because forgiveness is between one person and God. It’s an act of faith in which someone takes their bitterness and places it at the feet of Jesus, trusting Him to be the judge over the situation. This can take place apart from any contact with the offender. But reconciliation is different because it is focused on restoring broken relationships between two people. It takes two people apologizing, forgiving, compromising and changing. It takes two people trusting in God and asking Him to restore their trust in one another. Where trust is broken, restoration is a process—sometimes a lengthy one.
In many cases, even if an offender confessed his or her wrongdoing to the one who is hurt and appealed for their forgiveness, the offended person could say, “I forgive you, but it might take some time for me to regain trust and restore our relationship.”
The greatest evidence for forgiveness is trusting God’s control of the situation and allowing His grace and mercy flow through you to the other person. Forgiveness can be a moment, but reconciliation is often a marathon. But isn’t this how God interacts with us? Our forgiveness is immediate, but our fellowship with Him grows and matures over time.
Even when God forgives our sins, He does not promise to remove the consequences of our actions. Being forgiven, restored and trusted is an amazing experience, but it’s important for those who hurt others to understand their attitude and actions will affect the process of rebuilding trust.
And sometimes, the healthiest thing for two people is distance. We’re commanded by Scripture to forgive others, love others and be kind to others; however, nowhere in Scripture are we commanded to be friends with everyone. Sometimes the best way to forgive someone is to stay far away. They may be dangerous, harmful or toxic.
But even when reconciliation is not a reality or a possibility, we’re still commanded to forgive.