How to Forgive People-Even People Who Don’t Deserve It

If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses- Matthew 6:14-15 NKJV

Let’s be real. 

Hard things are hard and Christianity demands a LOT of hard things of Christians. Christians are called to love the most unlovable of people (Luke 6:27), and exercise self-control in the most unjust of circumstances (Romans 12:17-19, 1st Peter 3:17). Christians are even expected to do good things to and for people who mistreat them (Matthew 5:44). 

Perhaps the hardest of all the hard things Christians are called to do is to forgive those who sin against us. 

The New Testament passages that mandate total forgiveness are insanely comprehensive and leave no legitimate wiggle-room for compromise (Matthew 18:21-35, Mark 11:25, Colossians 3:13, 1st Peter 2:18-21). These requirements go so far as to teach that our being forgiven by God hinges on our willingness to forgive others.  Furthermore, Hebrews 12:15 tells us that if unforgiveness is allowed to harden into bitterness that bitterness will not just defile (taint, corrupt, ruin) the bitter person but the people they love as well. 

Sigh. 

Over the course of the last fifteen years or so I have had several “opportunities” to forgive people who really did not deserve to be forgiven, mostly because few of them were actually sorry. These were not small slights like having my feelings hurt, being overlooked in a social situation or being ignored by someone I felt should care about me. Each experience was extremely personal and painful.  I am not going to share the details of any of them. All you really need to know is that all the situations demanded more of me than I honestly thought I was capable of giving at the time. 

Through that I learned that there are steps that must be followed for the process of forgiveness to work itself out. If any aspects of the process are skipped or glossed over the forgiveness will be incomplete and our feelings towards the person who hurt us will harden into bitterness. 

Following are some steps to forgiving others. They don’t have to be done in a particular order but they all have to be done. It all starts with: 

Recognizing that forgiveness is a process not an event- 

Forgiving really big offenses is rarely, if ever, a one and done. Forgiveness begins with the choice to forgive. However, that choice must be followed by a commitment to do the work necessary to truly move on from the hurt. The length of time it takes to work through the process depends on many things including the level of hurt involved and the maturity of the person who was hurt. 

Ask God to help you-

Any reasonably mature adult can forgive a social slight or a minor offense easily.  However, there are some hurts and offenses so grievous that even the most spiritually mature people cannot forgive them without God’s help.  

Allow yourself to feel the impact of the hurt-

Anytime I hear someone who has just experienced a great-big-horrible-tragedy at the hands of an evil person say “I forgive them”, my heart breaks for them because I know that they aren’t Jesus and Jesus is the only person who ever lived who is truly capable of forgiving an act of evil without first sorting through their feelings about the situation (Luke 23:34). Forgiveness is hard because it is the act of surrendering the right we all feel we have to hold people accountable for sinning against us. Because feeling the impact of hurt is painful it is tempting to simply utter the words “I forgive” without counting the cost and really working through how we feel about the person who hurt us. But if we don’t we will likely find that the feelings of forgiveness do not last long.    All that being said, it is critical that we don’t get stuck in this step because if we do bitterness is inevitable. 

Find a person to help you process- 

God designed the human race in such a way that people need people (Genesis 2:18). Christians are commanded to comfort those in pain and to mourn with those who mourn (2nd Corinthians 1:3-5, 1stThessalonians 2:11-12, Romans 12:15). No one needs comfort more or is mourning harder than someone who is processing a big hurt. If you are hurting find a Christian counselor, Pastor or mature Christian friend who can walk you through the process. If you happen to be in a good place right now choose to be the person who helps someone when they need comfort. 

Pray daily for the person who hurt you- 

Pray that God will bless the person who hurt you. Ask God to make them more self-aware so they will know how their actions are affecting others.  Ask God to do whatever needs to be done in their lives for them to grow into the best version of themselves possible (Luke 6:28). Keep praying those prayers until you feel freed from any bitterness you feel towards the person who hurt you. 

Forgiveness is not easy but it is worth the trouble because unforgiveness makes it impossible for us to grow and change.  Authentic forgiveness frees us from the mental bondage of thinking about the person who hurt us all the time. This frees us up to focus on the things that will empower us to become the people God wants us to be.      

Satan’s Best Schemes- Racism

The one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil- 1stJohn 3:8 NASB

Last week a theological bombshell came out of the Catholic church. In an interview with an Italian magazine Fr. Arturo Sosa stated the following:

 “The devil is not a person,” but is instead “a way of acting evil…It is a way of evil to be present in human life.”  Sosa went on to say, “Symbols are part of reality, and the devil exists as a symbolic reality, not as a personal reality.”

Okay, so, Fr. Arturo Sosa, is the Superior General of the Jesuit priests and therefore a very big deal in the Catholic church. His declaration directly contradicts both Catholic doctrine and the Bible.  When I heard of this development, I did what most people do when they hear something they find shocking. I searched google to find out how many other people agree with him. I quickly learned that a whopping eighty-three percent of Catholics and fifty-five percent of Evangelical Protestants agree with Fr. Sosa that Satan is nothing but a figment of fevered imaginations.  

With all due respect to Fr. Sosa and every other Christian who does not believe in the devil. 

You all are wrong. 

Satan is a powerful being created by God. He eventually became filled with pride, turned against God and embraced evil (Isaiah 14:11-13, Luke 10:18).  The words devil and Satan are used interchangeably a total of eighty-two times in the Bible. Most describe the devil and his exploits (Luke 13:16, Mark 4:15, Luke 22:3, John 8:44, 1stThessalonians 2:18). The other passages are mostly just warnings to be on guard against the devil (Ephesians 4:26-28, James 4:7, 1stPeter 5:8).  It would be strange for God to describe something or someone that does not exist. It would be stranger still for God to warn people about something that does not exist. 

Seriously.

Ephesians 6:11-17 depicts Satan as a schemer. Satan is always looking for an opening so he can hurt individuals, ruin relationships, turn people away from God and basically just wreak havoc on the human race.  The Greek word for scheme in Ephesians 6:11 is a compound word.  The first part of the word means “to study” and the second part means to “run over”. What this word tells us about Satan is that he carefully studies people and situations looking for ways to run people over so that he can derail them from God’s purposes for their life. 

We are responsible for our own choices.  No one gets to lay all their bad behavior at the feet of the devil. That being said, Satan’s fingerprints are all over some of the greatest evils of our time. He does his best work when he plants ideas in our minds that appeal to our sinful tendencies and self-centeredness. Unless we are spiritually aware and walking in the Spirit (John 16:13, Galatians 5:16-17) we run with whatever questionable ideas have been planted in our heads. Because there are fewer and fewer people who are consciously choosing to walk in the Spirit, it is easy for Satan to introduce lies that turn people against each other and cripple the work of the church. 

Satan’s most successful schemes are the ones he uses to drive wedges between people, spread deception and destroy the work of the church. 

Racism is one of Satan’s most successful schemes. 

Racism is not new, nor is it strictly an American problem. Although, for the record, American racism has had some exceptionally ugly characteristics that kind of put it in a class of its own. The ancient world was rife with racism although racist attitudes were based less on skin color and more on achievement, political power and military might. Greeks were the pretentious eggheads of the ancient world, they believed they were superior to any race who lacked art or a written language of their own. Romans supposed they were better than any race of people they could conquer militarily.  Jews took their title as God’s chosen people pretty seriously and believed they were the only race God loved. This led them to believe they were superior to everyone. 

Jesus came to change all that. His coming was intended to eliminate racism from the heart of anyone who truly believes in Him. The Bible is clear that Jesus died for everyone and there is no race is superior to any other (Galatians 3:27-29, Colossians 3:11, Ephesians 2:15-17). Sadly, Satan has managed to use pride and human stupidity to convince some people (sometimes even God’s people) that they are somehow better than other people based on the color of their skin or country of origin.  

Well-meaning people have endeavored to eliminate the evils of racism by highlighting any attitude or action that they feel is even vaguely racist. Unfortunately, their definition of racism is so broad that our society has come to a place where literally everything is racist. Satan has cleverly made racism seem less horrible than it really is by calling everything racist. When everything is racist nothing is racist and the real racists get away with truly racist behavior.  

Sigh.

This is a place where Christians can bring much-needed balance to the table.  We do that by loving and respecting everyone regardless of color or nationality and by understanding that there is absolutely no room for racist thinking anywhere in the body of Christ.  

Finding Authentic Freedom

For the Lord God is a sun and shield; The Lord gives grace and glory; No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly~ Psalm 84:11

 Reader be warned:

 Our family drove to the Oregon coast this past weekend to connect with my four siblings for the first time since our Mother died eight-years-ago. The reunion was a blessing in every sense. However, it was also chaotic (in a good, loud, big-family kind of way) and a marathon of frenzied activity from start to finish.

 We left the beach emotionally gratified and seriously sleep deprived.

 The emotional hullabaloo and lack of sleep combined with too much time to think on the drive home left me feeling a little navel-gaze-y. Evidently, one possible side effect of too much reflection is an overly reflective blog post. That little disclaimer out of the way, I do believe that I may have hit on some spiritual truth in the midst of at least some of my musings.

 For that reason I pray you’ll give it a read.

 As we passed through the really ugly part of Eastern Oregon it occurred to me that Christians seldom talk about the fall of mankind anymore. We should because our world and everything in it was dramatically distorted in the blink of an eye and not just spiritually. The fall altered how we relate to God, one another and even the natural world. Relationships that were once carefree and easy to navigate suddenly became complex and even adversarial.

 One of the results of living in a fallen world is that even the best stuff in life often has a distinctly sad edge to it.

 Reunions are happy but the separations that instigated the reunions never are. Parenthood is one of the most joyful events a person experience in this life; it is also one of the most difficult and befuddling. Roses have thorns; every profit has a loss built into it. Human innovation typically has at least one unintended and profoundly unpleasant consequence- and cake makes us fat.  

 This reality plays out in the spiritual realm as well.

 Spiritual growth and the blessings that go with it can only be achieved through an oftentimes-painful surrendering of our very selves. Forgiving others brings freedom but at the cost of forfeiting the basic right most of us feel we should have: the right to seek revenge on the jerks that hurt us. The fall even affected our feelings about right and wrong and our perception of reality. Wrong typically feels right and is usually the path of least resistance. Right is always the harder road to traverse.

 Even the grace of God has a sad side to it. Grace, that thing we rejoice in, venerate and write songs about is only necessary because of sin, sin ruined literally everything and sin breaks the heart of God.

 Gloomy, I know.

Grace is necessary because human beings blew it and were powerless to stop blowing it for even a single minute. God is relentlessly generous, so when it became appallingly obvious that there was no way any of us could be good on our own God stepped in. He sent His son to die for us and gave us the grace we needed.

 This realization was almost too much to bear. I was done in.

 Mostly because I have come to believe that our generation has a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of grace and our lack of understanding is keeping us from becoming the people God has ordained us to be. We tend to view grace as nothing more than a massive bucket of forgiveness we can dip into anytime we have a sin that needs forgiving. We treat forgiveness like a magic concoction we apply to sin to make it acceptable, rather than an essential concession to our sinfulness.

 Thankfully, grace is much more than just a big bucket of forgiveness.

 Grace is power that frees us from the oppression of sin. The grace of God does more than simply forgive our transgressions. The grace of God gives us the power to overcome the sin nature that plagues us all (Titus 2:10-12). When we make the choice to live a holy life (Colossians 3:5-14, 1st Thessalonians 4:3-8, 2nd Peter 1:3-11) God dispenses the grace we need when we need it. That grace empowers us embrace the behaviors we need to embrace and let go of the behaviors we need to let go of so that we can be like Jesus.