There are times in my life I’ve been hurt, disappointed or wounded by others. When compared to what’s normal for me, these hurts are bad. I get frustrated and mad at the person who hurt me. I harden my heart toward the one who caused the disappointment. I find it difficult, seemingly impossible, to forgive them.
So now let’s stop and get a dose of perspective. These wounds, compared to the rest of my life are bad. But how do they compare to the lives of others? No one is shooting at me. I’ve never really been spitefully mistreated. I’ve not experienced abuse of any kind at the hands of someone I trust. My marriage is strong. My kids are happy, healthy and, at the moment, sane. Compared to the stories of others my life is blessed.
Unlike me, some of you reading this have legitimate reasons to struggle with forgiving someone else.
At the heart of our struggle to forgive is a desire for justice. Whatever the wrong, we don’t really want to get over it. We want to get even. We don’t want to forgive. We want to avenge. That’s understandable. Some of you have been abused in ways no one should ever have to experience. You’ve been wronged. Justice demands satisfaction. The need for vengeance saturates every surface of your life. To forgive feels likes you’re letting them get away with it.
That thought reveals our basic misunderstanding about genuine forgiveness. We think forgiveness wipes the slate clean. We believe we must forgive and forget. But that’s not really true.
Biblical forgiveness is a deliberate choice to release someone into the hands of God.
Does that sound like a cop out? Does it leave your desire for vengeance unsatisfied? Consider this. In the hands of God every person who has ever wronged you will experience one of two possibilities. They will either receive God’s mercy and grace or His judgement and justice.
What we want for those who have wronged us is His judgement and justice. We want God to ‘get ’em’. All the punishments of Scripture. All the curses of hell. We want them poured out on the one who wronged us. When we release someone into the hands of God that’s certainly a possibility. God could give them over to His judgement and justice. In Psalm 58 we see David pray that very thing, “Break their teeth in their mouth, oh God!” That’s a violent thought. It gets more descriptive, “The righteous shall rejoice when he sees the vengeance; He shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked…” This was a prayer of David, the man after God’s own heart. It was a prayer that reflects a kind of forgiveness, a kind of which we are unaccustomed. David released His enemies into the hands of God. He prayed, “God, get ’em.” He asked God to exert His judgement and justice, but David was satisfied to let God be the one to decide. He didn’t look to exact revenge himself. He gave the wicked over to God and said, “God, I trust you. Here’s what I want. Do with them as you will.” When we release someone into the hands of God they could receive His justice and judgement.
Or they could receive His mercy and grace. Here’s the thing about mercy and grace. It comes at a price. Mercy and grace are not free. If you are a God-follower the forgiveness you receive is a free gift to you, but it wasn’t free to God. It came at a terrible cost. The penalty for your sin and mine was paid for us by Jesus on the cross at Calvary. The Bible describes God trampling out the grapes of His wrath. The picture is clear. In His anger He crushes the guilty underneath His feet. For anyone to receive mercy and grace justice must be satisfied. Jesus took our place and received the penalty we deserved. He did the same for the person who has wronged you. If you give that person into the hands of God they only receive His mercy and grace because justice has been satisfied, the penalty of their sin paid when Christ hung cursed on that tree. When we pray, “God, get ’em.” We can be confident He will do just that. Sometimes, instead of pouring out His wrath on them He pours it out on His Son and in return gets their life and loyalty for all eternity. He ‘gets ’em’. In a way that transforms them from the inside out. When He ‘gets ’em’ the experience genuine remorse over their sin and a desire to make restitution. It’s justice that leads new life and restoration rather than justice that leads to destruction and death.
Jesus gave his life for the wrongs you have done and for the wrongs done to you. We can trust Him with those who have hurt us. Whether they receive from God judgement and justice or mercy and grace, justice is satisfied. The question is whether or not we will give up our desire for vengeance and release them into the hands of God. Will we trust God to deal justly with the one who wronged us?
This is a prayer I pray for myself and others, “God, grant me the gift of repentance and a capacity for forgiveness.” I ask for the gift of repentance because recognizing and confessing my sin doesn’t come naturally to me. I ask for the capacity for forgiveness because my desire for vengeance is strong. God can give me the courage and strength for both.
I don’t know who has wronged you. But I know you can forgive. Forgiveness isn’t about letting someone get away with it. It’s about releasing someone into the hands of God and trusting that one way or another, God’s going to ‘get ’em’.