“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you,”
In the passage above, Jesus gives a command and a warning. Christians must forgive, but countless individuals struggle to do so. A 1988 Gallup poll on forgiveness found that 94% of respondents indicated it is important to forgive, but only 48% said they make it a practice to forgive. Why doesn’t the 46% forgive?
I think there are several reasons why we don’t want to forgive and here they are:
1. We enjoy being a wounded victim. Like an ill child fretted over, we like to milk the attention and pity of others for all that it is worth. You will be hard pressed to find the phrases “I’m so hurt” or “I’m so wronged” on the lips of Jesus, the apostles, the prophets, or the patriarchs.
2. We enjoy anger and hatred. The reality is that many of us lead boring and uneventful lives. Perhaps C.S. Lewis captured it best in the Screwtape Letters when the demon convinced a man to do nothing he realized it and said, “I now see that I spent most my life doing neither what I ought nor what I liked.” The feeling of anger and hatred at least cause us to feel, so we nurse grievances, keep bitterness stirred up, and resentment remains.
3. We make non-repentance of the offender an excuse. It may be true that the one who offends you has not repented, but what prevents you from adopting an attitude of forgiveness? I believe that the hardest part of forgiveness is preparing our hearts to forgive another. An attitude of forgiveness must be in place to make the transaction of forgiveness. We must do the hard work of preparing our heart for forgiveness so that if repentance happens, we can forgive them fully reconciling the relationship.
4. We fear the abuse of forgiveness. Steaming from the fear of being used or abused, we fear that adopting this attitude and command will make us a doormat. The Bible commands us to love and pray for our enemies (Matthew 5:44). Do you do that or do you love and pray for them?
5. We think little and infrequently about the magnitude of our forgiveness. Perhaps a common reason that drives the other four, we don’t reflect on the immense debt of sin before God. If we were to sin only three times a day for a year that would be about 1,000 sins a year. And if the Lord blessed us with 70 years of life, we would face the judgment seat of God with 70,000 sins demanding payment. Praise God that Jesus made the great exchange (2 Corinthians 5:21) of our sin debt for His righteousness! When we realize what a debt Jesus took from us, our petty differences between one another become small potatoes.