By Jeremiah Tatum — Have you ever been hurt? I mean really hurt. I am not talking about falling down and scraping your knee hurt and getting a bandage from mommy. I am not talking about some wound that was your fault or that happened accidentally. But I am talking about being hurt by someone you loved so sincerely and completely that you fail to understand why they hurt you. I am talking about that part of yourself that says you would never do to your worst enemy what has been done to you by someone for whom you would have given your very life.
How do you forgive when you have been hurt so deeply by someone you love so deeply? Why is forgiveness so hard?
1. Forgiveness is hard because forgetting is impossible.
I know we’ve heard and been told to “forgive and forget.” I have counseled with Christian people who have said hatefully, “I will forgive them but I will never forget what they’ve done!” I have walked away knowing that there was no forgiveness there. But can we really forget? No. Will we forget? Impossible. But will we learn some things about trust? Yes. Will we learn some things about healthy boundaries? Yes. Will we lean on God more knowing that He alone will never leave us or forsake us? Yes. God wants us to remember so we can learn lessons and thank Him for His steadfastness.
2. Forgiveness is hard because trust is difficult to regain.
If you have been lied to, if you have been betrayed, if you have been slandered, or if your loved one has cheated on you, there is a wound that has been created that goes all the way through. This wound rarely heals completely. Whenever a familiar moment arises that reminds you of the time trust was broken, the surface that has healed above that wound is removed and you begin to bleed again. Human beings have a hard time trusting because we tend to over-emphasize our own personal feelings. We categorize and compartmentalize faithfulness. We forget that we are not always trustworthy in all things. We decide that if our loved one has broken trust in an area that we feel is more significant, they can never truly be trusted again.
3. Forgiveness is hard because it is natural for us to try to protect ourselves.
We build physical walls to protect our families, mental walls to protect our intellect, emotional walls to protect our hearts, and even spiritual walls to protect our individuality. Anytime a fortress has been penetrated we are prone to pack up and leave an area that was once safe, never to return. If you have been hurt bad enough even one time, you would rather experience anything than to be hurt in that same place all over again. We don’t want to be fools, so when we have been badly injured we wrap up and find a cave. There is no forgiveness for the one who has inflicted the pain when we are too busy sulking and licking our wounds.
4. Forgiveness is hard because everything is amplified when it is our loved ones who have been hurt.
We would much rather be hurt ourselves than to have it be our spouse or children. Especially in cases where the sin was egregious and unnecessary and cast upon the innocent — we find ourselves seeking retribution and justice. We suppose that if we could see the guilty party suffer for what they have done at least we would have something to hold on to over which we had some control. It is hard to forgive when you are reeling. It is hard to forgive when you see the pain in the face of your pierced and yet sinless child.
And then it hits us. We can’t forget, but God has promised He will forget our sins. We can’t trust, but God has forgiven us enough to trust us with the precious gospel and adopt us into His family. We can’t be vulnerable, and yet God has opened the gates of His eternal abode and invited us into His most intimate dwelling place forever. We can’t overcome the suffering of our loved ones, and yet God has forgiven us for crucifying His only Son.
Forgiveness is hard for one simple reason. We make it about us! God forgives so freely and perfectly because for Him forgiveness is about others. This is the love of God. When we deserved punishment, He chose mercy. When we deserved banishment, He chose fellowship. When we deserved nothing, He chose to give us everything. When we did what was unforgivable, He chose to forgive.
“In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” 1 John 4:10.