A Prison for Our Souls
by Deepak Reju
William fought with his wife, Natalie. They took all afternoon to resolve the issue. But Natalie held a grudge. She was hurt, and she didn’t forgive him. She knew she needed to, but she didn’t. Bitterness trapped her heart.
Jill got into a disagreement with a coworker, Amber. Though it seemed to be a minor issue, neither woman would budge. Their boss settled the matter, but Jill resented Amber.
Peter got angry at his son. Tim’s foolishness too often brought trouble. “I can’t do this anymore. I’m done with him,” he said.
Have you ever struggled to forgive? If so, there is hope.
Forgiveness means to let go or release. Between two people, a sin is committed, and a relational “debt” is created. When we forgive, we cancel the debt (Matt. 18:27, 32; Luke 7:42). We pardon the offender of his sin and wipe the slate clean. Forgiveness is free and unconditional; it is undeserved and cannot be earned (Matt. 6:12; 2 Cor. 2:7–10).
Forgiveness is costly. It is not easy. It’s often hard to forgive. But forgiveness means we willingly let go of the relational debt and sin. That’s costly, especially when we consider the range of things that sinners can do to one another, both “small” sins (speaking with harshness in a moment of frustration) or “bigger” sins (intentionally slandering someone) and everything in between.
Unforgiveness is just as costly. It leads to jealousy, anger, and envy. It sows seeds of bitterness that will grow and make everything worse. The cost of not forgiving can be worse than the cost of forgiving the person. Not forgiving is dangerous because it’s spiritually and relationally destructive for our hearts. What makes us hold off on forgiving? Our sense of justice makes us want to punish the person or exact some type of revenge. Whether it is giving them the silent treatment or constantly reminding them (maybe even berating them) for what they did wrong, we as sinners choose many ways to draw out the situation rather than offer forgiveness. So let us be warned—a lack of forgiveness when an offender repents is a recipe for more misery. It’s a prison for our souls.
What if we are struggling to forgive? We must start with the gospel. We can’t repay our enormous sin debt. But Christ did in full. We don’t deserve Christ’s love, yet He died for us nonetheless (Rom. 5:8). Let us cherish our forgiveness through Christ.
What’s the basis of our forgiving others? It’s not anything within the offender. Nothing he can do merits our forgiveness. Because Christ forgave us, we can forgive (Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13; Rev. 1:5). Let us feel the freedom in that statement. We are not bound to a prison of bitterness anymore. The shackles fall off. Extraordinary, isn’t it? But that’s the way God orders His universe. He forgives us, and that frees us to forgive others. So, what are we waiting for?