What is forgiveness and why is it important? What are the benefits of forgiveness? How does the liberating embrace of forgiveness feel? Why should we forgive someone for something that hurt us deeply? Does forgiveness mean that you fall right back into a trap you just got out of?
Have you ever asked yourself any of those questions? Forgiveness can be a touchy topic, but it is an important one. It can be uncomfortable to talk about forgiveness because it usually means revisiting things that you would rather leave forgotten, especially if it’s rooted in a traumatic event in your life.
What Is Forgiveness?
The definition of forgive is “to cease to feel resentment against (an offender)”.
In plain language, the meaning of forgiveness is that you stop feeling resentful towards someone. You can easily see how this carries huge benefits of forgiveness for the forgiving person!
A certain pastor once described forgiveness with this story: He was down in the woods and was cutting some trees, and doing some clearing work. The chainsaw slipped and instead of cutting wood, he cut deeply into his leg. He was able to get out and get help, but till the day he died, he had a scar on his leg from the accident.
“Forgiveness is like that,” he told us. “It hurt a lot at the time. But now all that’s left is a scar and it doesn’t hurt anymore. I still remember it, but it doesn’t hurt.”
In other words, true forgiveness is a scar of something that once hurt but doesn’t give you pain anymore. You have let it go and moved on but keep the lesson.
Forgiveness is a word laden with complexity, a practice that can feel both impossible and essential. In the history of human experience, few things hold the power to mend broken hearts and build bridges like true forgiveness. But where do we find the strength to forgive, especially when wounds run deep? The Bible, a timeless wellspring of wisdom, offers profound insights into the nature of forgiveness and its transformative power.
At the heart of forgiveness lies the notion of letting go. We release the grip of resentment, anger, and bitterness that holds us captive to past hurts. This is no easy feat, as the Psalmist acknowledges: “My wounds are foul and festering because of my sin” (Psalm 38:5). Yet, the Scriptures offer hope. God, in his boundless mercy, extends forgiveness to us despite our transgressions. As Isaiah proclaims, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool” (Isaiah 1:18). This divine forgiveness stands as a model for our own, urging us to release others from the burden of our hurt just as God has released us.
Forgiveness, however, is not simply overlooking or condoning the wrongdoing. It requires acknowledging the pain inflicted and understanding its impact. Jesus himself modeled this in his final moments on the cross, praying for his tormentors: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34). This is not a denial of their actions, but rather an act of compassion, recognizing their brokenness and offering them the possibility of healing.
But what about the practicalities of forgiveness? How do we navigate the often messy path towards letting go? The Bible offers several guiding principles. First, confession is key. As John declares, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Owning our vulnerabilities and hurts creates space for empathy and understanding, both for ourselves and for those who have wronged us.
Second, forgiveness is a process, not a one-time event. The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant in Matthew 18 reminds us that forgiveness may require repeated efforts, a continual choice to release grudges, and choose compassion.
Benefits Of Forgiveness
1. It Heals A Wound In Your Heart:
Just like the former pastor who had a chainsaw accident, things in our lives can certainly leave scars. The wound in his leg healed up. It left a scar but gave him no further trouble. My friend, when you experience a deep hurt, forgiveness is what heals that wound.
2. It Brings You Peace:
When we forgive someone, it may feel like we are doing it for them. By holding on to that hurt that you just can’t let go of, it may feel like you are getting revenge and hurting them back. But the person that you are forgiving may never know that you are still thinking of how they wronged you. The person that is hurting the most is you. One of the biggest benefits of forgiveness is the peace that it will bring to your heart.
3. It Helps Your Other Relationships:
It’s hard to have other good healthy relationships with you are holding a grudge or walking around with bitterness in your heart. Those things poison our other relationships. Not forgiving plants a seed of doubt in our loved ones’ minds “What if I ever mess up so badly that they never forgive me?”
When you forgive others it helps you love people better, especially those close to you. That’s a huge benefit of forgiveness!
4. It Stops Victimhood Mentality:
When someone has wronged you, it’s easy to think that they destroyed your life. You might even think that they ruined your entire future and you’ll never be happy with your life. That’s a lot of pain to live with.
The other problem with this mindset is that it paints you as the innocent victim and puts you in a position where you feel like you can’t do anything about it. That’s called victimhood mentality.
When you forgive someone you take back control of your life. You acknowledge the hurt and the results of what happened, but you also give yourself permission and the freedom to move on. You move from the position of being bounced around in the back of a covered wagon to sitting in the driver’s seat and holding the reins. It puts you back in charge of your own life.
5. Improved Mental Health:
As you can imagine, improved mental health is a huge benefit of forgiveness. When we forgive someone, we also let go of guilt towards ourselves. We no longer let bitterness and anger poison our other relationships and that space can be filled with love instead.
6. Stress Reduction:
Just as forgiveness improves our mental health, it also releases stress on us. That stress causes physical symptoms in our bodies, none of which are good long-term. I’ll go more into the physical health benefits in a minute, but the more studies are done on forgiveness, the more we learn about how good for us it is!
7. Sets A Good Example For Others:
I’ve messed up more than my fair share of times. There are times that I mess up. I lose my temper, I yell at my kids, I have good intentions, and try to intervene in a situation but instead of making it better, I make a terrible mess. I hurt feelings when I don’t mean to. I need forgiveness from time to time. When I forgive others, it sets a good example.
Why Are The Benefits Of Forgiveness So Powerful?
Forgiveness sets us free. It lifts an invisible load off our shoulders. That is, perhaps, the most powerful benefit of forgiveness. When someone hurts us deeply, our first reaction is to often lash back at them. Bitterness and grudges are a way that we try to do that. The problem is that those grudges and bitterness don’t hurt the person who wronged us. They hurt us, slowly poisoning our thoughts, feelings, and other relationships.
Grudges and bitterness poison our hearts. Forgiveness is the antidote.
Can Forgiveness Improve Physical Healing?
It’s not a coincidence that sites such as Berkley, Mayo Clinic, Harvard Health, Healthline, Mind Body Green, and John Hopkins Medicine all have articles on forgiveness. From a scientific perspective, some health benefits of forgiveness are:
- Lowering the risk of heart attack
- Lowering blood pressure
- reducing stress
- improving cholesterol levels
- reducing pain
- reducing levels of anxiety, depression, and stress
How can I practice forgiveness?
Forgiveness is hard, but the benefits of forgiveness make it worth the effort. Below are steps in practicing forgiveness.
1. Decide To Forgive The Person
This is the easiest step in the whole process for me because it’s intellectual. You decide that you are going to forgive someone that wronged you. This does not mean that you have to reconcile with the other person. It means that you decide to not hold hate and bitterness in your heart.
Or this person that you need to forgive might even be yourself. If that’s the case, then yes, you do have to live with yourself and reconcile. No getting around that if it’s you. We are often very hard on ourselves through our inner critics.
2. Think About The Person That You Have Decided To Forgive
I know, this step is hard and often stirs up strong feelings. Pain, anger, resentment, bitterness, helplessness, and any number of other emotions. You just ripped the bandaid off an old wound. All that hurt, pain, anger, resentment, and bitterness – that’s what needs to heal.
3. Acknowledge Your Feelings
All too often we make the mistake of trying not to feel anything or stuffing negative emotions away. We just sweep them under a figurative rug and hope they will go away. That may work for a time, but at some point, someone will unknowingly lift that rug or bump it and they will all come flooding out.
It’s ok to feel sad, angry, etc. As my mom used to tell me “Feelings are ok. Some actions are not.” Acknowledge them and bundle them up, because in the next step, we’re about to take them all up to someone who can handle them better than we can.
This is a step that you will not find in any scientific mental health guide to forgiveness, but I believe it is a vital step. God forgives his children of their sins, so we should forgive others. He is the Great Physician. There is no one better to fix your broken heart than the one that made you in the first place. He knows your hurt, your anger, your bitterness, and your tears. He knows the anguish of your heart. Give all that to Him. Ask Him to help you forgive.
Say to yourself or God “I forgive….”
5. Empathize And Reflect
After you have said that you forgive someone, this is where the process part comes in. Just as it takes time for a physical wound to heal, it also takes time for emotional wounds to heal. By saying that you forgive someone and working on those feelings you have started a process that may take some time.
Think about the situation with empathy or sympathy. Reflect on what you have learned or how the experience has strengthened you. The person might have been acting out of their own fear or likely dealing with their issues. How people treat other people is largely a reflection of how they feel about themselves.
Why Is Forgiveness So Hard?
Forgiveness is hard because it involves dealing with very strong emotions. It doesn’t make any sense in the natural world. Forgiveness is a way that we show God’s love in us.
That unconditional love business sounds easy on paper, but sometimes it’s hard to put into practice! Remember a time when it was you on the other end, though? Was there ever a time that you messed up and needed forgiveness?
Frequent Questions Asked Concerning Forgiveness
1. Is Forgiveness An Action?
Yes. Forgiveness is an action. It cannot be seen, only felt in your own heart. You forgive yourself because that’s the one that’s hurting when you don’t. It frees you. It’s not an action that can be readily seen, but it is an action, nonetheless.
2. Is Reconciliation Always A Benefit Of Forgiveness?
No, forgiveness does not always mean reconciliation. The two are often associated with one another but they are different. Forgiveness means that you no longer let feelings of bitterness and hurt chain your heart and hold you captive. Reconciliation means that you make up with the other person.
Reconciliation can be a benefit of forgiveness, but it’s not guaranteed. It’s great when you can reconcile, and it’s the ideal situation. But we know that life does not always hand us the ideal situation.
3. Does Forgiveness Mean No Consequences?
There are always consequences for choices. Forgiveness does not mean that we go right back to the person who hurt us and let them do the same thing again. We still need to take the lesson.
True Life Story On Forgiveness
In college, Maria thought one of her roommates, Jane was her best friend. She later realized that Jane used her and manipulated her to do things for her. It came out that she was a pathological liar (her description) and that she had always had a problem with it. Maria felt betrayed and deeply hurt.
Maria prayed about it – a lot. Then, she went through all the steps of forgiveness earlier listed above and asked God if she should stay roommates with her or if she should go. Three different people came to Maria in the next few days seemingly out of the blue and told her to get out. Staying would not have helped either of them.
Maria separated herself from Jane. She found a new roommate and moved out. Maria went by her new room and bumped into her and asked how she was doing. She was doing to the new roommate the same thing that she did to Maria. Taking her into confidence, telling her she was her best friend. Doing things and going places with her.
At that point, Maria was willing to still be friends with her. Until she lied to Maria again for no good reason. This time, Maria knew it was a lie. She could see it more clearly. What also became clear to Maria was that she was going to keep lying to her no matter what.
Maria had to cut Jane out of her life. It hurt, but it would have hurt both of them more to stay. She needed to learn not to take advantage of people’s trust. And that there were consequences for her actions.
Years later, Jane found Maria on social media and sent her a private message. She told Maria that when she left, it had been a defining moment in her life, and that had taught her a valuable lesson. She thanked Maria for that and told her that even if they were never friends again, she wanted Maria to know that she had made a difference in her life.
Walking away was painful because giving up on people does not come easy, but if my walking away helped her to have better-trusting relationships with others, then it was worth it. In this case, there were benefits of forgiveness for both of us.
Bible Verses About Forgiveness
“And be ye kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiven one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” – Eph. 4:32
“Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any, even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things, put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.” Col 3: 12-14
“Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus said unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times; but, Until seventy times seven.” Matt 18:21-22
“To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also; for if I forgave any thing to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ; Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices.” – II Cor 2:10-11
“I write unto you, little children because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake.” – I John 2:12
“If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared.” -Psalms 130:3-4
Biblical Story On Forgiveness
The Parable Of The Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18:21-35)
A king was settling debts with his servants. The servant owed way more than he could pay, and the king decided to sell his servant and his family to repay the debt.
The servant falls to his knees and begs the king to give him more time to repay his debt. The king has pity on him, cancels his debt, and lets him go.
The Unforgiving Servant
As the servant is leaving, he sees a fellow servant who owes him money. He grabs him, chokes him, and demands immediate payment. When the fellow servant asks for more time to repay him, he refuses and has him thrown in jail!
If that servant had been truly sorry for the debt he owed and truly humble in receiving the king’s forgiveness of his debt, he could never have turned around and treated a fellow servant in the way that he did.
In turn, when we realize how great our debt to God is, and how much it cost Jesus to atone for our sins, it would be impossible for us to turn around and say to others that we are too hurt or too angry to forgive them for the sin they commit against us.
Remember that forgiveness is not solely for the benefit of the offender. As Ephesians 4:32 suggests, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Forgiveness liberates us from the prison of resentment, allowing us to move forward with a lighter heart and open arms.
Forgiveness is not an easy path, but it is a powerful one. In the words of Colossians 3:13, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” In this act of radical grace, we find not only healing for ourselves but also the potential to mend broken relationships and build a more compassionate world. So, let us embrace the liberating embrace of forgiveness, allowing it to transform our hearts and heal the wounds of our world, one act of mercy at a time.
Forgiving others is one of the secrets to being happy and content in your life that I cover in my course, Questing for Contentment.