In response to my post “Would You Have Forgiven a Nazi?” I received a thought-provoking Facebook message.
My friend wrote, in part, “I read your post on forgiveness and agree with your interpretation 99 percent. My one concern/question/comment has to do with no one wanting to hold onto anger or hurt a little bit longer. … I was just thinking that I wish people could hold onto anger for longer than a month or so, myself included, so we can stay angry until things are finally fixed for the first time ever. … I have to ask myself how one balances forgiveness with a desire to make meaningful change.”
I truly appreciated the feedback and sent a reply. Here are my thoughts:
It’s both/and, not either/or. We don’t have to choose between forgiving or pursuing change. With God’s help we can forgive and also address the problem that aroused our anger.
Micah 6:8 (NIV) speaks to this: “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Both justice and mercy/forgiveness are important and can co-exist.
Forgiveness relieves the hurt. When you forgive someone else, your heart becomes unburdened. It has been said that unforgiveness is like swallowing poison and expecting the other person to die. Unforgiveness is most damaging to the person who holds onto it. I saw this quote recently: “Life becomes easier when you learn to accept an apology you never got.” Better to let go of pain than to hold onto it.
Consider Hebrews 12:15 (ESV): “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble.” Unforgiveness leads to bitterness, which causes all kinds of problems for us. Better to cut off bitterness at its root and move forward unencumbered.
Choose resolve. Instead of holding onto anger as a motivator, release the anger and develop resolve within you. Resolve is saying, “I’m not going to quit until the problem is fixed.” You can retain your firmness of purpose after forgiveness. You can be at peace in your heart and still be committed to achieving results. Anger can become an internal dictator and control us; resolve comes out of self-control. Resolve is determination with poise.
Galatians 6:9: “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Don’t give up on a just cause!
Anger has a variety of causes. Some anger is because of personal hurts. Some is because of injustices that we observe. Anger is a feeling that happens. Holding onto anger is a choice, a choice that can lead to great harm to ourselves and others.
Jesus said about anger, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment … 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 5:21-24)
Jesus places the two in sequence. First, be reconciled. Then take care of business.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean you abandon your mission. It means you can focus on handling the mission God’s way.