Why don’t people just forgive? That is a very good question. If forgiveness is easier and more beneficial, why isn’t it more popular? The sad reality is that there is short-term, relationally destructive power in refusing to forgive. Holding onto the other's wrongs gives us the upper hand in our relationship. We keep a record of wrongs because we are not motivated by what honors God and is best for others but by what is expedient for ourselves.
Five Dark "Benefits" of Unforgiveness
- Debt is power. There is power in having something to hold over another’s head. There is power in using a person’s weakness and failure against him or her. In moments when we want our own way, we pull out some wrong against us as our relational trump card.
- Debt is identity. Holding onto another's sin, weakness, and failure makes us feel superior to them. It allows us to believe that we are more righteous and mature than they are. We fall into the pattern of getting our sense of self not by the comfort and call of the gospel but by comparing ourselves to another. This pattern plays into the self-righteousness that is the struggle of every sinner.
- Debt is entitlement. Because of all the other person's wrongs against us, he or she owes us. Carrying these wrongs makes us feel deserving and therefore comfortable with being self-focused and demanding. “After all I have had to endure in relationship with you, don’t I deserve . . . ?”
- Debt is weaponry. The sins and failures that another has done against us become like a loaded gun that we carry around. It is very tempting to pull them out and use them when we are angry. When someone has hurt us in some way, it is very tempting to hurt them back by throwing in their face just how evil and immature they are.
- Debt puts us in God’s position. It is the one place that we must never be, but it is also a position that all of us have put ourselves in. We are not the judge of others. We are not the one who should dispense consequences for other's sin. It is not our job to make sure they feel the appropriate amount of guilt for what they have done. But it is very tempting to ascend to God’s throne and to make ourselves judge.
The Ugly Lifestyle of Selfishness
This is nasty stuff. It is a relational lifestyle driven by ugly selfishness. It is motivated by what we want, what we think we need, and by what we feel. It has nothing to do with a desire to please God with the way we live with one another, and it surely has nothing to do with what it means to love others in the midst of their struggle to live God’s way in this broken world.
It's also scarily blind. We are so focused on the failures of others that we are blind to ourselves. We forget how often we fail, how much sin mars everything we do, and how desperately we need the grace that we are daily given but unwilling to offer to others. This way of living turns the people in our lives into our adversaries and turns the locations where we live into a war zone.
Yet, we have all been seduced by the power of unforgiveness. We have all used the sin of another against him or her. We have all acted as judges. We have all thought we are more righteous than the people around us. We have all used the power of guilt to get what we want when we want it and in so doing have not only done serious damage to the fine china of our relationships, but have demonstrated how much we need forgiveness.
Forgiveness Is a Much Better Way
It seems almost too obvious to say, but forgiveness is a much better way. The grace of our salvation is the ultimate argument for this truth. Forgiveness is the only way to live in an intimate, long-term relationship with another sinner. Forgiveness is the only way to negotiate through the weakness and failure that will daily mark your relationships. It is the only way to deal with hurt and disappointment. Forgiveness is the only way to have hope and confidence restored. It is the only way to protect your love and reinforce the unity that you have built. Forgiveness is the only way not to be kidnapped by the past. It is the only way to give your relationships the blessing of fresh starts and new beginnings.
Grace, forgiving grace, really is a much, much better way. So, isn't it wonderful to know that you have not only been called to forgive, but you have also been graced with everything you need to answer this call?