The toxicity of unforgiveness
EACH DAY we wake up to words making headlines such as ‘reprisal’, ‘dispute’, ‘fatal domestic dispute’ and others that reveal much violence in our society. In many cases the root of these issues can be summed up in the word ‘unforgiveness’.
Unforgiveness is powerfully toxic. The Scripture says: “An offended brother is more unyielding than a fortified city.” Proverbs 18:19 NIV. Unforgiveness is a killer – it’s a killer of dreams, aspirations, potential and can lead us down a road of bitterness that leads to killing people. However, we are the ones who lose when we harbour unforgiveness, and those around us can also lose. We don’t need to be very intuitive to know that many persons around us struggle with issues of unforgiveness. But forgiveness sets us free! Louis B. Smedes put it in proper perspective when he said, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”
Unforgiveness stands in the way of us enjoying fullness in life, wholeness and peace in our souls, and the victorious life we are called to live. We are designed for relationships, but unfortunately, relational viruses attack every relationship. Tensions arise, wrongs are done, sometimes lies are told, and trust is broken. The truth is that good relationships are built not on a standard of perfection, but on our ability to ask for forgiveness, and our willingness to extend forgiveness. In other words, grace and forgiveness must impact both our friendships and general relationships.
To address unforgiveness we must answer the question ‘How do I forgive others?’ Forgiveness is costly and it’s certainly not easy to extend it to those who’ve wronged us. Yet forgiveness is an essential pillar of the church and of Christ’s teachings.
It can be said that forgiveness is the virtue we most enjoy and least employ. One of the reasons it’s so hard to forgive others is because of a misunderstanding about what forgiving others really is and what it is not. So let’s first look at what forgiving others is not.
FORGIVING OTHERS IS NOT
1. JUSTIFYING THE OFFENDER’S ACTIONS
When we have been harmed, and need to forgive someone, we don’t have to justify their actions. We don’t have to say things like — well, they were under a lot of stress. Or they were under a lot of pressure and couldn’t help it. Or I don’t think they meant it that way or for that to happen. Forgiving others isn’t justifying their actions. When someone is wrong, they’re just wrong.
2. TRUSTING THE PASSAGE OF TIME
We have all probably heard that ‘time heals all wounds’. But the passage of time on its own doesn’t always make things better. Sometimes it makes things worse and can lead to more anger and bitterness. Forgiving others isn’t about trusting the neutral and passive passage of time.
3. DENYING THAT WE ARE HURT
Forgiveness isn’t saying — oh, it didn’t hurt. It didn’t matter or didn’t affect us. Men are especially good at this. Men love to deny it, because we’re tough, and we’re rugged. Nobody can hurt us emotionally, so we’re not hurt. But we know when somebody hurts us, it’s like getting a splinter in your finger. Sometimes it might be very small, but if we deny that it’s there, then it’s going to eventually harm the whole hand. That little splinter can eventually harm our whole body. Forgiveness does not deny the pain that we felt or mean that we are ‘soft’.
Now that we know what forgiveness is not, next week we will talk about what is true forgiveness.