The Cost of Forgiveness
Douglas Connelly is the pastor of Davison Missionary Church in Davison, Michigan, USA. He has written twenty LifeBuilder study guides as well as books like The Bible for Blockheads and The Book of Revelation Made Clear. Here, for Time to Talk Day, he blogs about the importance of forgiveness.
Forgiveness is hard. It’s hard because we always pay a price to forgive. When justice (or vengeance) is in operation, the person who hurt us pays the price. They suffer. When we choose to forgive, we pay the price, we absorb the pain.
We sometimes think that God forgives us out of some sentimental emotion, but that is not what happens. God makes the choice to forgive. He chooses to absorb the pain of our sin himself. He is the one who pays the price of our rebellion and insult to him. God lays the penalty of our sin on his own Son. When Jesus suffered the agony of the cross, he was taking upon himself the sin penalty we deserved – and not only ours, but the sin of the whole world.
Because the penalty is paid, God is now free to forgive. But every sin takes him back to the cross where Jesus died.
When someone sins against us, we can choose one of two responses. We can set ourselves on a path of revenge or anger or bitterness. That path leads to our own destruction. The second path, the harder path, is to choose to forgive – to absorb the cost, the pain, the humiliation ourselves.
I can hear the protest that rises when we think about that: “What about the person who hurt me? Why should they go free? I might forgive her, but only after she apologizes for what she did.”
We think forgiveness is a feeling when it’s not. Forgiveness is a promise. When God forgives me, he makes three promises to me:
• He promises that he will not bring up what I have done against me ever again. God doesn’t keep a list. He doesn’t come back and rub our noses in our sin. He forgives.
• Second, God promises that he will not bring up my sin to other people. God doesn’t spread the word about how I hurt him.
• Third, God promises that he won’t carry a grudge. He won’t bring up my sin to himself any more. He won’t sit and stew about what he had to pay to forgive me.
When we genuinely forgive someone, we make those same three promises. I promise the person who sinned against me that I won’t bring up his sin the next day or during the next argument to use against him. I’m willing to absorb the hurt myself. I’m also promising that I won’t tell other people about his sin against me. Last, forgiveness means I won’t carry a grudge. I won’t avoid him at church or on the street. The words, “I forgive you,” are not words to be spoken casually or flippantly.
Another problem we have with forgiveness is that we confuse forgiveness with reconciliation. Reconciliation takes two people. Both must be willing to confess their wrong and change their lives. Forgiveness only takes one person. We may never be reconciled to the person who hurt us. They may go on their way, oblivious to what they have done, or totally unwilling to apologize or reconcile. But we can still make the choice to forgive. We can still lay that anger and pain at Jesus’ cross. We may have to do it many times, but, in the end, we will discover that we are free – free to love, free to risk, free to restore, free to walk through the pain or embarrassment or loss.
What burden of unforgiveness are you carrying today? What bitter feelings have found root in your heart? The only solution to that heartache is forgiveness. “Forgive each other, just as God in Christ has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32).