The heart to forgive my ‘enemies’ has often eluded me. I am no stranger to feeling bitter, resentful, and bent out of shape because of the ‘injustices’ meted out to me. Yet, I have also been blessed with this insight: if I’m to overcome my bitterness, I must take responsibility for my sin:
“If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
— Matthew 6:14-15 (NLT)
Taking my own responsibility for my contribution to the conflict is God’s chance to convince me I’m far from perfect myself.
When I understand I’m far from God’s holiness in my own behaviour, I’m much readier to understand sufficiently the extent and power of grace that forgives me.
A lack of willingness to forgive is a lack of understanding about the magnificence of grace. When we withhold our grace we prove we don’t know or respect God’s grace.
Shaking the hand of Jesus is about this vision: seeing the person I am bitter towards as not only a person who Christ has stood for – and plead for – before the Father, but seeing them also as my barrier to be overcome in order that I may be forgiven.
When we understand that our bitterness sets us apart from the purposes of the Kingdom of God we are quickly motivated to forgive. And we cannot do that unless we are able to see how broken and sinful we, ourselves, are.
If you believe the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:14-15 and yet you still intend on retaining your right to withhold forgiveness, you are stuck in the mire of indecision – a massive sense of cognitive dissonance, which is a kingdom divided against itself; one that cannot stand.
When we recognise that holding onto bitterness is a self-defeating strategy, we are inspired to do whatever is necessary to bring the impasse to a close.
Imagine going to your nemesis, looking them in the eye, friendly in your body language, and shaking their hand. We are verily shaking the hand of Christ. The person that we don’t forgive stands in the way of God forgiving us.
It’s much better to make peace with those we are bitter with than to continue to defy God.
How much more should we forgive than insist on remaining unforgiven?
Should we risk being judged harshly by withholding our mercy? We should rather be full of grace.
Forgive and live.
© 2015 S. J. Wickham.