“A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.”
–Ruth Graham Bell
Most of us would agree that forgiveness is important in marriage.
We would also agree that forgiving can be tough to do. Even when we want to forgive, it can be a fierce struggle.
In my own wrestlings to forgive, I have learned that often the struggle comes from not understanding true forgiveness. Sometimes we have a hard time forgiving because we are trying to do things that are not part of Biblical forgiveness.
Here are 7 truths about forgiveness that can help us conquer the struggle:
1. Forgiveness is not denying or excusing the wrong.
Forgiveness begins by stating that there was a wrong.
Where there is no wrong, there is no need for forgiveness.
2. Forgiveness is not ignoring justice.
Even when governing authorities need to enforce laws and penalties, we still need to forgive within our own spirits. In marriage, we may need to establish boundaries; and with children, we may need to issue discipline. But in each case, the goal is to serve and the motive is love.
We can forgive when we recognize that unforgiveness itself is an injustice. It is an injustice against God. He has already supplied us with the grace that we need to give others, and He alone is the rightful Judge.
Our unforgiveness says that God will not keep His promise to protect us and to provide for us, His covenant partners. It says that God is inadequate as a just Judge.
It is often pride or fear which keep us from forgiving. It is not justice which hinders our forgiveness, for our Forgiving God is completely just.
3. Forgiveness does not mean that we must have good feelings. It does not mean that we must stop hurting.
Forgiveness is not an act of the emotions. It is an act of the will.Tweet this!
Forgiveness is a decision, not a feeling.
It is a decision to drop the stone of punishment.
Instead of throwing the stone, we drop it. Repeatedly, we refuse to pick it up. We let go of retaliation. If we find that the stone of revenge reappears in our hand, we decide once again to drop it.
We can do this when we realize that the stone of punishment is a boomerang with our name written on it.
4. Forgiveness does not mean that we must forget.
God tells us that He forgives our sins and “remembers [them] no more” (Isaiah 43:25). However, this does not mean that God, who possesses perfect knowledge, literally forgets huge portions of our personal history. It does mean that He does not think of our wrong actions as “debts owed.” Our loving Father sees us as children who may need discipline and training, but He does not see us as enemies who need to be punished. Before God, we have nothing to earn, nothing to prove, and nothing to repay.
In the same way, we are not required to forget what others have done. But we must think differently. We must no longer believe that someone else owes us. We may recognize a need for healthy boundaries and helpful consequences, but we do not desire to take revenge or to see someone else suffer.
5. Forgiveness is not passive.
Forgiveness is one of the greatest spiritual forces in the universe. This act of the will to submit to the goodness of God is, at the same time, an act of resistance to Satan. It is perhaps the most devastating weapon we have against the forces of darkness.¹
6. Forgiveness does not make us vulnerable.
Forgiveness rescues us from the inadequacy of our own resources and brings us under the covenant care of God.
Bill Elliff puts it this way:
God only allows two people at a time in the boxing ring. If you want to get into the ring and try to fight your own battles, God will let you. But He’ll get out. If you want God to fight your battles for you, then you must get out of the ring … and stay out.²
7. Forgiveness is not between you and the person who wronged you.
It is between you and God.
Ultimately, we are wrestling with the One who allowed this hurt to happen. Will we trust Him to redeem all that we give to Him, to turn ashes to beauty, and to keep His promises to us?
When we do, we experience peace and inner freedom, and we powerfully reflect a beautiful and glorious God.
¹For more on this topic, read “A Spiritual WMD.”
²Forgiveness: Healing the Harbored Hurts of Your Heart. The Summit Church. 1998. p. 20.