To be completely transparent, forgiveness is an issue with which I have struggled most of my life. Since I have relatively few complaints in the scheme of things, it amazes me how some people who have suffered great heartaches have an easier time letting go of offenses than I do. Maybe they have more practice? Or, maybe they came to a point when they realized they had two sets of choices – let go, forgive, and move on; or, stay embittered and be perpetually miserable. Regardless, I do feel somewhat ridiculous when I find anger rising in my heart towards someone who hurt me twenty years ago while others seem to let go of hurts from twenty minutes ago.
Thankfully, I know I am a work in progress and my strength to forgive comes from Christ in me. Those moments of anger will resurface from time to time, but that does not render my decision to forgive null and void. In those moments, we must cling to God and His promises; and, sometimes we need to say out loud, “I already forgave ____________. I will not let anger toward him or her overtake me again.”
But, Do I Have to Forgive?
Years ago, I recall talking to a client couple about forgiveness. Though they had not been together long, she was concerned about his feelings towards his family and felt it was prudent for him to seek reconciliation with them. Much to everyone’s surprise, he responded that he did not believe God requires us to forgive. (I did not fall out of my chair, but I did have to pick my mouth up off the floor.)
For someone new to Christianity, or someone who had never propped open a Bible, I could understand such a stance, but that was not the case here. This young man knew plenty of verses and had no problem quoting them when it suited him. At the end of the day, he did not want to forgive his offenders – regardless of the clear direction given in Matthew 6 to forgive.
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6:14-15, ESV)
Maybe this person did not believe he needed God’s forgiveness and, thus, was not required by God to forgive others? At any rate, we became concerned for the young lady he was dating. If he not only struggled with forgiveness (which many do), but refused to forgive, she was in for a very long and very lonely journey. Thankfully, she heeded the advice of close family and ended the relationship before it moved to engagement.
Sadly, many people fall in love and get engaged or married before they realize their partner has a forgiveness problem. Have you noticed how your significant other approaches forgiveness? Does he or she:
- Get hurt easily and use those hurts to his or her advantage later?
- Get offended easily but also forgive easily?
- Take some time to process the hurt and then slowly and systematically work on forgiving?
- Look for (or create) drama if there is none readily available?
- Find occasions to be offended where no offense was intended?
- Let hurtful comments and actions roll off his or her back?
- Confront the offender and work out the situation?
Whether your loved one forgives easily or needs time to process and grieve before letting go, the biggest question to answer is: Does he or she forgive? And, not only does he or she forgive you, but does he or she forgive everyone? It is easy to show grace and forgiveness towards someone with whom you share a new and exciting infatuation, but what happens after the newness fades? Does he or she forgive parents? Siblings? Friends? Co-workers? If not, there is no good reason to believe he or she will be graceful and forgiving in your marriage – and we all need a ton of grace and forgiveness from our spouses. No one else gets to see us quite so clearly – in all our sinfulness – as our spouses do.
No Matter What We Forgive in Others, God Has Forgiven More in Us
The closer we grow to God, the easier it becomes to forgive. Perhaps because being continuously attached to Christ (cf. John 15) reminds us of the mercy He offers us – despite His sinlessness and our sinfulness. Recently, I was listening to a sermon by David Pawson who recalled a situation where people were spreading untruths about him which was making aspects of his ministry difficult. So, he prayed about it and the answer he received was, “Nothing they could say is worse than the truth.” So, he told his wife and they enjoyed a good laugh. For those who have put their trust in Christ, there is so much for which we have been forgiven. We could not wrap our human minds around it if we tried.
We Hope You Are Finding the Creed Notebook Questions Helpful!
By this point in the year, we hope you have created your notebook and combed through the questions together. It is amazing the amount of discussions couples can (and should) have prior to engagement. Though somewhat overwhelming at times, it is an exercise in strengthening your future marriage and that is priceless!
- Do I struggle to forgive? Does my significant other struggle to forgive?
- From when the offense occurs until forgiveness, what happens inside of me before I can forgive? (How does my partner answer this question?)
- What is my philosophy of forgiveness?
- Are there people I need to forgive and with whom I need to attempt to reconcile before I start a new family?
- What inner-messages do I hear, or fears do I encounter, when faced with an offense? (e.g., “forgiving is weakness,” “if I forgive, they will do it again,” “forgiveness might cause me to let my guards down and be hurt again,” etc.)
- When did I receive a powerful offering of forgiveness from someone else? How does that experience impact my attitude towards forgiveness now?
- Am I comfortable with how my significant other approaches forgiveness? If not, what needs to change before I am comfortable?
What Does the Bible Say?
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. (Colossians 3:12-13, ESV)
Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. (Acts 3:19-21, ESV)
Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, “I repent,” you must forgive him. (Luke 17:3-4, ESV)
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:31-32, ESV)
And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. (Mark 11:25, ESV)
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:21-22, ESV)
Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure – not to put it too severely – to all of you. For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. (2 Corinthians 2-5-8, ESV)
So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23-24, ESV)
Every true believer can say I am thankful for the cross and the forgiveness of sin offered to me through Jesus Christ.
Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. (Isaiah 1:18, ESV)
And, the peaceful assurance that my sins are not only forgiven, but gone.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103-11-12, ESV)
Having the desire to forgive and being willing to forgive (though not usually instantaneous or easy), is one sign of being in the faith.
Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. (I John 2:9-11, ESV)
Thankfully, we have the privilege of following Christ who perfectly modeled forgiveness – even while hanging on the cross.
And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. (Luke 23:24, ESV)
As you prepare to pen your personal and couple’s creeds, reflect on the miracle of forgiveness and what it has meant for your life and eternity. Consider your relationship with God. Is it where you want it to be? Are you surrendered to Him? Have you repented of your sins and put your trust in Him for salvation?
Let’s take some time to ponder what our Savior taught us and to consider how we can weave forgiveness into every fiber of our relationships.
A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers. – Ruth Bell Graham
Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. – Corrie Ten Boom
To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you. – C.S. Lewis
Do I have any unforgiveness in my heart which might be affecting my relationship?