Do you remember the last time someone really hurt you? Maybe someone did something cruel to you when you were a child or maybe it was more recent even today that someone did something to hurt you. If you were to make a list of people that have caused you pain who would make your list? Members of your family? Your spouse? One of your parents? Your children? The person at work? A close friend – better labeled “former friend.” Do you find yourself still harboring the pain they caused you? I often speak with people who have spent years in bondage because they were unable or unwilling to forgive someone. You have probably heard the saying “forgive and forget,” but to someone who is upset or hurt after a challenging period in a relationship, a friendship or even a marriage, this is often easier said than done.
Let’s face it, it is never easy when you have been wounded, in fact it is always hard when people hurt or betray you, however unforgiveness and a refusal or inability to let go of those past hurts can haunt you for years. How does God want us to respond to people who hurt us? Whether that person is a family member or an enemy, how should we react? Imagine carrying around the fact that someone from elementary school embarrassed you in front of the class. Or, having an “attitude” with your new manager because you haven’t gotten along in the past? Hurt people unintentionally hurt people by holding on to these types of situations, unfortunately holding on will actually hurt you more than the person that caused your pain.
So how does God want you to respond to those who hurt you? Luke 6:27-36 speaks to this issue with great detail. In some areas of the Christian life we struggle to find out how God wants us to respond. That is not the case here. God’s instructions are detailed. Jesus says, here is how I want you to respond to that enemy today love them! “But, this makes no sense!” you say. Why should I love them? Look at all the damage this person caused in my life, and now you just want me to love that person? If this person has come to beg for my forgiveness, and if they have really changed then maybe, I might, stop fooling yourself, you just like most people will still find it hard to forgive and love them. What most of us really want is for them to pay for what they did, we want them punished, and we want them to hurt like they hurt us.
We have all experienced hurt, pain, and anger as a result of injustices, unfairness or just plain insensitivity by others. However, the Bible speaks quite plainly to the issue of revenge: “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.” – Romans 12:19. Just in case there is any confusion here, God does not need you to tell Him when or how to take revenge.
But what about the person who has not changed they are still the same evil person that hurt you so deeply. Why is this person walking around unpunished while you are tormented by the past and full of pain? Why do murders go unpunished, why are pedophiles able to hurt again and again? Why, Why, Why? In response to all your “whys” Jesus simply says, “Love your enemies.”
In the book of Luke 6:27-28 Jesus says, “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” In the verses following those Jesus gives several specific examples of how to treat those who have hurt you, and then in verse 36 He concludes with, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” Wow! Talk about an impossible standard!
God expects you to forgive. The word forgive means “to give up resentment or to pardon.” Forgiveness is not allowing someone to hurt you again and again, instead, it is a decision you make by faith. Ah, there it is, it is a decision that I must make, God wants me to be responsible. But how, I forgive, but I can’t forget what happened. Oh, Okay, I see you have forgiven but are unable to forget, got it. So, you now have a desire, a need if you will, to see the person that hurt you punished in some way. You can begin or continue with forgiveness by accepting people as they are releasing them from any responsibility you have for them to meet your needs.
It is important to remember that forgiveness is not a feeling or an emotion but a decision, it is an act of your will. Stand firm on your decision to forgive, remembering, forgiving someone is for your benefit. It doesn’t matter how badly someone may have hurt you. Jesus tells us that we should pray for our enemies and bless those who curse us. This may seem hard, but it is actually an act of forgiveness. When you pray for those who have hurt you, God will release you from the negative situation and bless you because of your obedience to His Word. The other person’s behavior may never change. It is up to God, not us, to change others. Our responsibility is to be set free from the pressure and weight of an unforgiving attitude.
Forgiveness most of the time is not a one-time action rather it is a process that can be painful at times and may seem unending. But whatever our pain, whatever our situation, we cannot afford to hold on to an unforgiving spirit. We must get involved in the process of releasing others from the debts we feel they owe us. Don’t live your life carrying around the burden of unforgiveness. Don’t try to get even with people who have hurt you, don’t wish them ill will. You don’t have to be subject to the injustices that you’ve suffered in life. Rise up in the faith and knowledge that God always has your back.
Make the decision in your heart to move forward. Break the cycle of being hurt and holding grudges by making a decision to resolve, release and in some cases seek restoration in the midst of conflict, pain and anger. If you keep your eyes on the One who forgave us, it will be liberating like nothing you have ever experienced before in this world. When people come against you, and you are tempted to retaliate, in that difficult moment you have a choice I urge you to choose forgiveness as an act of faith.