In 1993 while having a conversation with a man trapped in New Age Occultism, the subject of forgiveness came up and his bondage to unforgiveness became abundantly clear, it was the reason that he had become involved in New Age and the key to his deliverance.
This man was dying of cancer and in this conversation he had already said that it came to his understanding that the hidden cause for his condition was unforgiveness. He said that he had thought that he had forgiven those in his past who had ever wounded, hurt or damaged his life; those who had ever damaged him. Then he made the two statements that ultimately led to his deliverance, even to his salvation in Christ Jesus!
First he said, “I forgive everybody! I also forgive God!” Then, almost immediately he said, “Only God can forgive!”
I did not really reply to his first statement, but the curtain went up when he said that “only God can forgive!”
I asked him, “Do you believe that the Bible is God’s Message to humanity?” He said he accepted that the Bible was ONE of God’s Messages to humanity. I asked him, “O.K., do you believe that the Bible is True?” He agreed that it was.
I then asked him, “So, if the Bible is true, would God tell us to do what only He could do? Would God, Who claims to be Just, be just in telling us to do what we cannot do?” I then read to him the following:
Colossians 3:13 (NKJV)
bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.
So then, if we are told to forgive one another for complaints, or as the King James Version reads, a quarrel. The complaints (quarrels) are the result of being offended, wounded or damaged. And God is telling us to forgive those against whom we have complaints.
Then I read to him the enabling factor to our forgiveness …
Colossians 3:12 (NKJV)
Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering;
If we are to be able to forgive others we must first become the elect of God, for in order to be able to forgive others, we must have first received God’s forgiveness through Christ Jesus! “So, yes,” I said to this man, “forgiveness IS impossible if you have not been forgiven by God!
For you cannot give what you do not have to give! BUT! Once you experience the forgiveness in Christ Jesus, then we are ENABLED to forgive others, which is why God tells us to do so!”
Some weeks later, I met with this man again in his living room and he was sitting in the floor with many of his New Age books – and the Bible. He said to me, “All my life I have been searching for the Truth and I realize that it is not found in all these other books. I have realized that the Truth was right in front of me all along, right here in The Bible!” Soon after that, this man confessed that he had received Christ Jesus as his Lord; soon after that he experienced a Holy Spirit encounter with God; soon after that, he went home to Heaven!
But that is not the end, nor even the point of this message.
A few years later, in the midst of what was yet another melt down in my own life, I asked God why I was in the middle of yet another time of failure, of disaster in my life. Once again, it seemed that sin had overwhelmed me and once again, I had deeply hurt people closest to me.
This failure cost me every friend in church I had, it cost me my family, it very nearly cost me life itself! While the devil’s agenda is to ultimately destroy those who he can, he can only do so if we play into his schemes, and once again, I had played into his schemes and again, I knew that I alone was responsible for doing so.
However, this time, God got through to me in a different way. This time, I finally lowered my resistance to what God had to say and show to me – about me! And it was anger!
Now while we are all comfortable explaining our anger by focusing on all the hurt and pain that others have caused us to suffer, this is really not what anger is! We are not comfortable with the truth about anger so we don’t want to face that truth! Anger is the result of … not forgiving others!
Anger will, at some point, take control of our lives on level after level until we are simply: A person of Anger!
I had a lot of reasons for anger! Wrong things that had been done to me by adults when I was young. Things that had been done to me by those I trusted. Wrong things that had been done to me by friends. Wrong things that had been done to me by enemies. Wrong things that had been done to me by people in church, the one place where wrong things shouldn’t be done to each other!
In that “meltdown” I had to admit that because of my anger, and for nearly 20 years (at that time) I had been molded by that anger and far from being conformed to the image of Christ, I had been conformed to the image of a composite of all the elements of my anger! I had hurt everyone from children to adults, family to friends to enemies … I had hurt them all, some of them in ways that I wonder if the shame will ever leave me!
It was during those days that what I had asked the man I was earlier talking about came into play in my own life: “Would God tell us to forgive if it was impossible for us to forgive?”
I finally understood that I had been most unforgiving! I realized that I too had been thinking that it was not possible for me to forgive all those who had wounded, damaged and even defiled me! Beginning with my paternal father to the deepest enemy I had, I was carrying around all that anger and whether aggressively or passively, my life as nothing more than an expression of anger!
At some point I finally realized that not only was I guilty of not forgiving, I was guilty of calling God a liar! By thinking I couldn’t forgive all those that I had a complaint against, I was in fact expressing that God was not truthful! I was guilty of not believing God and any way you slice it, when we don’t believe God we are, in fact, calling God a liar! Just like when you don’t believe what someone tells you, you are calling them a liar; perhaps not openly, but that is what you really believe about them!
Now that is a heavy burden to live with!
Finally, I realized all of this. Finally I realized that I was even guiltier that the man referred to previously! Why? Because I HAD been forgiven in Christ Jesus! I DID have forgiveness to give! I CHOSE TO WITHOLD IT!
I wanted those people who had hurt me to pay for it! The problem was that those people were, for the most part, never going to be seen by me again which left people who were innocent to be hurt by me! And hurt them I did, which caused even more anger! Anger at myself for at times what were very gross failures – morally, spiritually, emotionally and socially!
Finally I realized something else. That all my refusal to forgive was ultimately to my destruction!
Once again, I was falling right in line with the devil’s scheme to destroy me and along the way, planting the seeds of destruction in the lives of many other people! People who I had hurt, violating people that trusted me to love them was causing them to develop anger!
What a demonically destructive cycle in life is in motion! When people get angry enough they too will refuse to believe God which will put them in the place of losing God’s favor and blessing; leaving them exposed with less and less of God’s protection!
At this point it is important to state that much of what happens to us simply is not fair nor is it explainable! Why do children get abused? Why does one person get hurt who did not hurt the one who hurt them? Why does one spouse blame the other spouse for something that they are not guilty of? Why does an employer give credit to someone who is absolutely not worthy and dismiss the ones who are making his business work? Why does a church run off a Godly pastor in favor of a secular minded leader?
I simply don’t have the explanations for these types of issues, yet I experienced many of them in my own life from childhood to adulthood.
The only explanation I can give is what Jesus said: Offenses will come. Woe to those by whom the offences come!
I had not forgiven the worst of the offenders in my life. I had become very much like many of them. Wow, could this be a part of what Jesus meant when He said: "But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” And in another place, “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”
(Matthew 6 & 18)
Could it be that to a lesser or greater degree we become just like the offenders in our lives if we don’t forgive them? Do we become guilty of the same offences and therefore do not experience God’s forgiveness because of becoming like those we ourselves do not forgive?
To my horror and shame, I had in so many ways become just like those who had offended me and defiled my life, damaged my heart and defeated my trust!
Why? The answer to this question also held (and holds) the key to unlock being transformed from a miserable spiritual failure to being increasingly transformed to Christ-likeness!
I couldn’t forgive for one simple reason! Choice! I chose not to and instead chose to hold on to the hurt and being victimized by the sin of others … which meant that I had chosen to oppose God, even as His child and that is about the worst condition of life I can think of!
I FELT as though I could not choose to let go of the pain and hurt that had been caused to me because if I did, then who would avenge me? Oh! What would happen if they actually became God’s children also? Who would make them pay for hurting me then? How would I ever get satisfaction?
This is, I believe, a very common problem among Christians who are wrestling with the forgiveness issue in their own life. “Who will give me satisfaction for being hurt if the one who hurt me gets right with God?” We know from personal experience that God pardons, and pardon means a get out of jail free card! How is that going to help me get healing? If I have to let go of my right to get revenge; if I let go of even the satisfaction of the offender confessing that he/she hurt me, where is the justice in that?
And that leads us into the real issue!
The real issue is this: Are we willing to be transformed and become conformed to the image of Christ – or – are we going to insist that we remain as we feel we are entitled to be?
In those “meltdown” days in 1995, I finally came to the point of being so miserable that I wanted things to be different! Not just because of realizing that the greater part of my life, even as a Christian, had hurt far too many people – although I was so tired of causing more and more shame that I have to live with; but because I had truly had become horrified at how I must appear to other people! There always was a very large part of me that never wanted to hurt anyone, but the weight of anger overwhelmed that “good” part and one every level imaginable I was exhausted from the guilt of sin that anger produced!
So, I made a choice: LET IT GO AND LET GOD DEAL WITH THEM!
A choice! Finally I WAS able to forgive others! Finally I CAN forgive!
That is what it all came down to … my choice to live God’s way! My choice to ALLOW God to manifest in me what He had already enabled me to do because of being forgiven by Christ!
Perhaps for the first time since my early days as a born again person, I knew again the fullness of God’s forgiveness in me! The biggest obstacle to my getting to know God as my Abba was no longer! In the midst of my “meltdown” when I asked Him why I was again in such condition God had told me that I kept repeating the cycle of misery because I did not really know Him as He wants us to know Him as Abba Father! And it was the choice to refuse to forgive others – from my heart – that was preventing me from knowing Him in this way!
The message is not over yet, however.
A couple of years after that there was a man who hurt me financially that I found myself refusing to forgive! I needed the money he owed me and I was desperate! I had earned it, he owed it and I was suffering because of not having it! I WANTED SATISFACTION and I was praying for God to grant me satisfaction!
Anger was creeping in again! Some very old ways were rising up again! Even to the point of thinking about acquiring the help of some people I knew who could “collect” the debt for me! I knew what was happening and for a short time I have to admit that I didn’t care, I needed the money this man owed me!
One day during this situation, quite unexpectedly, God gave me a vision of what was about to befall this man both in this life for what he had done to a lot of people and ultimately in the fires of eternal punishment for rejecting God’s love and rejecting Christ Jesus! I heard God ask me, “Is this really what you want for this man? Is $1200 really worth this to you?” I was driving when this happened and had to pull the car over because in tears I cried out to God, please spare S____________! I didn’t want him to pay what was about to befall him! I cried out for mercy to God for this man! I released the money he owed me, I released the anger I felt, I released the satisfaction I wanted, and I released this man to God but for mercy not for justice!
I honestly don’t know if I had ever done this before that day, for anyone! Perhaps for the first time in my life I understood what giving mercy meant! Perhaps for the first time I understood that God really is more concerned with the spiritual well being of every human far more than He is with gaining justice and for the first time that I can remember, I chose true mercy for another person and for the first time forgiveness had never been so easy!
There is no such thing for a child of God as “can’t forgive”! It all comes down to our choice! Hear again the words of our Lord …
"So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.'' (Matthew 18:35)
Do you really want yourself turned over to the tormentors? Do you really want yourself to be in the position of not experiencing God’s forgiveness towards you? Believe me, these are not just words on a page, they are Truth and will become your reality if your choices are to retain your right to have revenge and get satisfaction!
But what about the offender?
People have often asked me, “Do you feel remorse for what things you did to hurt others?” Some people that I have hurt want me to confess every detail of every wrong thing I did to them and they want to see me grovel at their feet … and then maybe they will forgive me! I have known other people who want those who hurt them (and this is an understatement) to decide what suffering will even the score.
The great problem with this is that once they have exacted their revenge, they still wouldn’t forgive and to make matters worse, they have no further recourse; they just live life trapped in their own unforgiveness, being eaten up with bitterness so awful that is seems to seep through the very pores of their skin!
They want them to stay guilty! Sadly, this is the attitude of many “Christians”, they don’t want those who have offended them to be free of guilt! Yet, that is exactly what God does through Christ Jesus – he removes our guilt! Not past guilt, He doesn’t say that we were NEVER guilty … He just declares us GUILTY NO MORE for those sins we have confessed to Him and have a godly sorrow for! More that that, He goes to work cleansing us so that, when the cleansing is complete, we won’t be repeat offenders and this is simply more than some people can stand!
To think that he or she “did this to me but will never do this to anyone again” is simply too much for them to accept! So they try their best to trap people into being prisoners of their past! They project present guilt on “the offenders” for what they are no longer guilty of and perhaps have not been guilty of for decades! God actually cleansed them from that unrighteousness!
Yet, these same “unforgivers” stand in Church Sunday after Sunday and sings songs like “He set me free!”; “Amazing Grace”; “I’m Forgiven”; “At The Cross”; and all the hymns and praise songs that declare the forgiveness and cleansing from God! They want it for themselves, yet they can’t stand the thought that God really will do the same for those who hurt them!
All the while having no idea, and refusing to believe it if they were told, how those same offenders – free from present guilt – still carry the burden of shame for their past actions!
Shame is so much worse than remorse. Remorse fades over time, shame does not seem to and it is only by God’s grace that it can be carried at all! While shame is not a punishment from God, in a very strange way it seems to be a result of being cleansed from the unrighteousness that caused the harm! You see, being cleansed the child of God looks at what they did do, what they were guilty of, and from the perspective of being clean are horrified that they ever were capable of doing such evil! And that, again, is inescapable!
Finally, while considering if you as God’s child will choose or refuse to forgive, while considering if “can’t forgive” is really true, consider this question: Do you want righteous people to pray for your health and well being, for you to be blessed and prospering in your soul? Whether you forgive those who have perhaps deeply hurt you or whether you don’t, those who have been forgiven and cleansed by God in Christ (as 1 John 1:9 says He will) have a common trait.
They consistently pray for the healing, health, well being and blessings upon those who they have so deeply wounded in life! That means, that quite likely, that offender you “can’t forgive” is and has been praying for your benefit for a very long time! They may not have been able to face you or life may not have afforded them the opportunity for them to ask you forgiveness face to face, or, perhaps at one time they have asked you to forgive them but you were so hurt and angry you don’t recall that they did, or that you replied that you “don’t see how” you can forgive them!
Perhaps God has been answering their prayers in your favor for years, even decades and you only thought you knew the source of prayer power at work for you! If the truth be known, there may have been times that the ones you relied on for prayer failed you while at the same time the Holy Spirit brought you to the “offender’s” mind and they responded in the prayer your life needed at that moment!
Yes, there is a lot to consider in the question of “can’t forgive?” But God did not tell us to do something that we can’t do! Thus the issue really is, will you choose to forgive and finally be free or hold on to being offended, wounded, hurt, damaged or defiled?
Which will God bless you for choosing? Which will play into the devil’s scheme of your destruction? Look at yourself today, how much of what Christ warned have you already experienced for choosing “can’t forgive”? How much more do YOU want to suffer or how much would you rather be blessed?
Just as I pray for those who I have hurt in my life, I pray for you the reader who has thus far been trapped in “can’t forgive”!
May you find the freedom from pain that God works in the hearts of those who choose to trust Him in the forgiving of those who have caused you pain.
Read more articles by Dr. Timothy Hoflund or search for articles on the same topic or others.