Forgiveness: Why is it So Hard? – Matthew 6:9­-15

“You don’t know how much they hurt me!” “I can never forgive him for what he did!” “I can’t ever forget what she did. How can I forgive her?” These are some of the words of the wounded. Cut me off in traffic, and my fellow commuters can be made to pay for weeks. Hurt me or the ones I love, and you may never get on my good side again! (Okay, enough confessing.) These are expressions demanding justice. No justice, no forgiveness. Welcome to Grudgeville! Holding a grudge is one of the manifestations of an unforgiving nature. Why is it so easy to hold grudges, but so hard to forgive? Here are a few statements that suggest you may have a grudge:

  • They knew better. They intentionally did it.
  • I would not do that to anyone.
  • They never liked me in the first place.
  • I always knew something was fishy about them.
 
Sound familiar?
 
In each of the above reasons, it is stated or inferred that the only relationship involved is between the one hurt and the one who caused the hurt. The more powerful relationship often omitted is our relationship with God. When that relationship is left out, it makes holding a grudge easy and forgiveness impossible.
 
In M​atthew 6:12,​Jesus states, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” The model prayer is concluded in verse 13. Jesus’ commentary on the model prayer (​verses 14 and 15)​ is reserved exclusively to the issue of forgiveness. Jesus connects forgiveness in our relationship with others to our expectance of forgiveness in our relationship with God. In fact, Jesus tells us the same way we forgive our fellow human beings is the same standard by which God will forgive us.
 

Given the consequences of not forgiving, it seems we would forgive out of our own self­interest. Yet, it is our human tendency to dig in our heels against forgiveness. Why? Here are some justifications demonstrating unforgiveness:

  • God, You don’t understand how deeply they hurt me. W​hat a pride­filled statement. Do I really know better than God? Of course not!
  • I would never hurt anyone like that. T​his minimizes the degree I grieve the heart of God when I do that which He has told me not to do or leave undone those things God has instructed me to do.
  • I can’t let them get away with that. T​o forgive suggests I am giving someone something they don’t deserve.
  • I can’t accept their apology. I​ know they don’t really mean it. If I forgive them, they will just do it again.
  • I can’t forget it, so I can’t forgive.
 
In my heart of hearts, I know I don’t really want Divine justice. What I need is Divine mercy. When I understand how gracious God has been to me, I am compelled out of gratitude to demonstrate that same mercy (as demonstrated in forgiveness) to you. Because, I am still human, consistently putting forgiveness into practice is extremely difficult. However, I find encouragement in the words of the Apostle Paul,
Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead. I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
 
(Philippians 3:12­14)

In my next three entries,​I will dive further into the topic of forgiveness:

  • Forgiveness: Is an apology enough?
  • Forgiveness: Gift given or received?
  • Forgiveness: Is forgetting possible?
 
Stay tuned!