Lately I’ve been hearing what I consider misguided theology on the feeling that reappears after we’ve forgiven someone; the feeling—despite our having extended forgiveness—that confirms in us that we’re still bruised, neglected, hurt.
Some preachers claim that if you still feel the pain of the wound after having forgiven someone, then it’s best to forgive them again; after all, Jesus instructs Peter to “forgive seventy times seven.” If you’ve done this and the gnawing feeling remains, then it’s quite likely Satan’s throwing dirt in your face, reminding you of the wound, threatening to take you back to the toxicity of unforgiveness.
I’ve been here. I’ve spent the past twenty years hacking through jungles of unforgiveness with a machete of will, with the perception that my rescue rests on my being able to set others free of their sins against me.
Even still, this past year, particularly when I’ve been invested in menial tasks like emptying the dishwasher or sorting laundry, the ache of someone’s cutting words or vicious actions echo in my heart. I feel the immediate urge to shut-down, to despair; but then I remember, “We battle not against flesh and blood but against the powers and principalities in this world.” So I rebuke the enemy; I silence the pain. I forgive the person again, sometimes seventy times in one day.
To do this repeatedly is exhausting, never mind frustrating and futile. It’s as if the power of the Gospel is lost in our hearts’ inability to comprehend a matter: why won’t this pain go away when I’ve clearly forgiven the person for her wrongdoing?
Because there was still a wrong done to me—to you—and the gash from that wound needs to be healed.
Here’s where God intervenes. Here’s where God asks us to close the dishwasher or dryer door and sit with Him for a while. Here’s where God silences us in our striving and points to the pain. Here’s where He validates our feelings.
He reminds us of what was spoken, and then He speaks truth over the situation. For me, it sounded like this:
Renee, she said you were to blame, that you were not to be trusted. But you are forgiven, Renee. You are trustworthy. She spoke those words out of her sense of abandonment, her history of neglect, her tendency to lash out when she feels she’s done something wrong.
When I interact with this person now, I have an overwhelming sense of compassion and hope. I’m not preoccupied with whether or not I’m going to get burned again. I gauge her words not with a sense of mistrust but with a recognition that she, like I, still has wounds to salve. She, like I, doesn’t always react appropriately. She, like I, needs Jesus.
Forgiveness is central to Christian theology: we forgive because we were first forgiven. We forgive to acknowledge someone’s worth. We forgive because it’s a relief to put down a weapon rather than carry it with us wherever we go.
But pain is real. Behind every act of forgiveness is a wound God wants to heal. He wants to rescue us not merely from the bondage of contempt, but from the sting of words or actions or inactions.
He wants us completely free. He wants us to know He is here to make that happen.
Image Credit: This I Do