Chapter five, Part Four (or chapters 6-8)
The Art of Forgiveness
John 15:12 NKJV
Hard Questions about those who Refuse to Forgive
How can a fellow believer refuse to forgive?
I’m not totally sure how to answer that question definitively because there are myriad of reasons.
First, it seems like there are people who misunderstand forgiveness. The biggest issue is that they believe forgiveness is a feeling and they are trying to resolve their feelings before they forgive. Their feelings can be hurt because they believe they’ve been wronged. Or they could be struggling to forgive themselves for what they’ve done.
If we thought about it we could probably come up with many many reasons why someone would struggle to resolve their feelings about being forgiving and forgiven.
The bottom line is that we do not need to resolve our feelings before we forgive. WE also do not have to do it on our own.
I know I’ve said this over and over again, but a decision to forgive someone is not a feeling.
It’s a choice.
We don’t have to deal with our feelings before we forgive; we choose to say to God ‘I forgive’.
Once we choose to forgive the matter is turned over to God and God helps us deal with our feelings.
Not only does that give God our permission to take over the situation, it gives God permission to work with us toward reconciliation.
It’s a win-win.
Second: there are times when even knowing it’s a choice, people choose not to forgive. In other words they decide to hold onto their grudge. By holding on they will suffer and they will be miserable, but they choose to be unhappy.
Third: there are people who want to let go but the hurt is so deep they can’t bring themselves to say, ‘I forgive’. I’ve known people who have struggled with their own deep seated feelings long enough that their feelings became their new normal. There are times when we need outside help to get ‘unstuck’.
What does it mean to us when a fellow believer refuses to accept our forgiveness?
I’ve had believers who have told me they refuse to accept my forgiveness. The first time it happened I was a young adult. I was shocked and stunned. I felt like I’d been hit with a taser.
I took it to God and prayed about it. I eventually realized I am not responsible for the decisions other people make. So, I forgave them for NOT forgiving me, which puts the matter into God’s hands.
What happens when we have been wronged and the person asks God for forgiveness but doesn’t ask us for forgiveness?
This one is tough, but it’s clear that the person who sinned needs to ask God to forgive them and they also need to ask the person they wronged to forgive them. Take the case of a person who betrayed their spouse. In this case,“A betrayed spouse may be ready to forgive, but unless the betrayer repents, there can be no reconciliation (Luke 17:3). Adultery can be devastating to a marriage, and spouses sometimes refuse to give up their illicit relationships” (https://churchleaders.com/outreach-missions/outreach-missions-articles/301967-how-to-forgive-adultery.html).
The same scenario would be true if someone betrays a friend (or a non-friend). They need to ask God to forgive them and they need to ask the other person to forgive them. It’s a two part deal. We cannot ask God to forgive us and call it ‘good’. If we betrayed someone we need to ask for their forgiveness.
Back to our initial question…what happens when someone refuses to forgive? We need to forgive and give the matter to God. If we have the opportunity we can tell the unforgiving person we forgive them and that puts God in charge of the situation as well.
As a pastor’s wife I’ve been in situations where there was a disagreement with another person. Very seldom was it because of a theological disagreement. In my case it was often because of my dress code for my children or a decision made regarding acceptable reading or viewing material for them.
I usually listened to their opinion and thanked them for their input.
I prayed about it and asked God to help me decide what to do. I seldom felt like God was asking me to change my decision.
In every case I forgave the other person which turned it over to God.
In a few cases, when the other person realized that nothing changed they refused to speak to me again. I still spoke to them and I forgave them when they didn’t respond.
I learned I am not ultimately responsible for decisions made by others. Even though it hurt, I forgave them. Once again, forgiveness is not a feeling…it’s a choice.
I learned the hard way that people will not always agree with me. When I was younger I struggled with that, but now I shrug my shoulders. I came to realize I’m not in charge. Scripture doesn’t tell us we have to agree. We are told to love. Love them anyway. John 15:12 says, “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
Notice it’s not a choice…it’s a commandment.
Disagreements will happen. When someone refuses to ask for or accept our forgiveness I forgive them anyway. I work through my feelings with God, and I love them. If they don’t respond I forgive them.
Today’s Spiritual Practice is: Love the Unlovable.
If someone in your life is unlovable, love them anyway and pray for them.
In God, Deborah