Question: If you sincerely forgave someone in the past who hurt you deeply, yet still harbor the pain that was inflicted years before, is that forgiveness genuine?
To understand the connection between forgiveness and the pain caused by hurts that have already been forgiven it is important to understand the nature of forgiveness and what it actually accomplishes.
Forgiveness, biblically, means: 1) “to cover” or “atone for” (2) “to lift” or “carry away” (3) “to pardon,” with the connotation of completely removing or cancelling.
So when Jesus teaches us in the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matt. 6:12 ), He is instructing us to ask God to completely cancel our sins in the same way we cancel the sins of others against us.
Let’s say that a friend asks to borrow three hundred dollars from you with a promise to repay once he is able. You loan him the money, even though it means sacrificing a trip to a much anticipated family reunion. A year later your friend has a new job, and you know he is able to repay. The repayment of the loan doesn’t come and you begin to feel your friendship has been abused. Reluctantly, you mention the loan, your friend apologizes and promises to get you the money soon, but it never comes. Finally, you choose, for the sake of your friendship, to forgive the loan. You tell your friend the loan is cancelled, and that you no longer want the payment because the loan is cancelled.
Regardless of your friend’s response, is the loan cancelled? Is the forgiveness of the debt genuine? Of course it is. Neither your feelings nor your friend’s response has any bearing on the cancelled debt.
But now there is another issue. Cancelling the debt has not really saved the friendship, has it? You are still feeling hurt, and you distrust your friend’s integrity—and you feel badly about that! And because you feel bad, you wonder if your forgiveness was genuine.
Listen: your feelings do not cancel out forgiveness. A cancelled debt remains cancelled; a forgiven sin remains forgiven:
John 20:23 If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
BUT, you now have to protect your heart against bitterness:
Heb. 12:14-15 Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.
You cancelled the debt in order to “live in peace” with your friend. Good. Now you confess your hurt feelings to God and ask Him to cleanse your heart of any bitterness toward your friend, because bitterness is also sin. Don’t “miss this grace” God longs to give you.
1John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
Oh, and one more thing…
The next time your friend asks for a loan… :)