Today we have the pleasure of sharing a guest post from Author of the Month, Sara Horn on the topic of forgiveness. Sara has written more than seven books including the popular My So-Called Life as a Proverbs 31 Wife and her latest release How Can I Possibly Forgive? Rescuing Your Heart from Resentment and Regret. Get it free here!
He walked into their church on a Wednesday evening and they welcomed him. As they did every week, the members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church settled into a time of Bible study, with no idea that before they were through, Dylann Roof would pull out a gun and murder nine of them solely for the color of their skin.
We have no words when something like that happens. How could something so ugly, so vile, and so heartbreaking happen in a place that should never know those things?
But then we hear the words of the victims’ families, words they spoke to Roof after he was arrested and he stood in court to hear the charges against him.
“Hate will not win.”
“I forgive you.”
“May God have mercy on your soul.”
No one might expect any of these families to utter those words in the aftermath of what happened, but they did. Through muffled sobs and obvious pain, they released what our world would say was their right—to hate, to seek revenge—and relied instead on God’s grace to sustain them. They made the choice to put their trust for justice not in man, but in their Heavenly Father. Though Roof had showed no mercy where their loved ones were concerned, those families instead looked to God for his mercy in their time of need, and for his strength in their time of sorrow.
They forgave someone who didn’t deserve forgiving.
As believers in Christ, we know that forgiveness should be our auto response but generally it’s not. Maybe that’s why the Bible talks about it so much.
Here are just a few of the verses we find in Scripture about forgiveness:
“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)
“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 3:13)
“For if you forgive others their wrongdoing, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well. But if you don’t forgive people, your Father will not forgive your wrongdoing.” (Matthew 6:14-15)
Shortly after I’d turned in the manuscript to my last book, How Can I Possibly Forgive?, I was confronted with a situation that required forgiveness—and brought its own share of deep pain, hurt and a realization that my trust in this person had been sharply betrayed. Though they were sorry for their actions, there were lingering consequences—consequences which directly impacted me, though I’d done nothing to deserve what I suddenly faced.
In that moment of my friend’s confession, I realized I had a choice: forgive this person, or withhold forgiveness. I could willingly keep a suddenly broken, far from perfect relationship and take steps to repair it, or I could cut it off completely. Though it was difficult, choosing to forgive my friend reinforced what God had taught me in the previous months before.
Not every situation we encounter will result in a renewed relationship or friendship and in certain cases, it shouldn’t. Some relationships can be toxic, or distracting. Sometimes we’ll encounter someone who refuses to be sorry or admit any responsibility for what’s happened between you. Sometimes filtering a relationship out of your life is necessary.
But is forgiveness still possible in every situation? I believe it is [Click to Tweet!], especially when we think less about that person’s unforgivable actions and more about the forgiveness God extends towards each of us.
Forgiveness is intentional.
It is a daily choice to “forgive freely,” as we find in the meaning of the Greek word charis or charizomenoi. Do a word study as I did—it was interesting to me how often the word “forgive” is used as a verb. Something to act on.
If we believe that “love is a verb,” as the popular phrase goes—then doesn’t it make sense that forgiveness is a verb as well?
Here are three truths about forgiveness we can remember and act on, starting today:
1. Forgiveness is possible with God’s help. God loves to help us come back to him, and when we are dealing with a hurt that brings up pain and resentment and other negative emotions, we are inching or sometimes leaping away from him. But forgiving someone will never keep us at arm’s length from God; our forgiving actions will only bring us closer to him.
2. God expects us to forgive. This has no room for negotiation, friends. God wants us to forgive. He wants us to forgive our enemies who do us wrong, forgive our friends who say careless things, forgive our family members who make us want to cry or tear our hair out. He wants us to let it go, and he expects us to do it. Jesus said in Luke 6:37, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.”
3. True forgiveness releases hard feelings. The person you need to forgive may never offer an apology or admit any wrongdoing. But your forgiveness for their wrong releases those feelings that keep you from walking forward, maybe even from starting a new friendship or pouring into your current relationships because you’re afraid or because you now have great doubt and mistrust of other people.
Other emotions could be holding you back from the plan God has for you. When we keep kindness and compassion in our hearts (Ephesians 4:32), it’s difficult to hold anger and cynicism at the same time. Get rid of the junky feelings —get rid of those negative emotions that come when we refuse to forgive someone. Offer up forgiveness, breathe in God’s grace, and let that grace shine out to others.
That day my friend came to me with news that hurt our relationship could have been the last day we spoke. But instead, it was the day God led me to lead my friend back to a renewed and right relationship with God. It’s now been over a year, and I have had the blessing of watching my friend grow stronger in their relationship with the Lord, something that might not have happened had forgiveness not occurred. You never know how God will use you for his purpose if you make yourself available to be used. [Click to Tweet!]
The families of the victims of the Emanuel AME church shooting chose to show God’s love to Dylann Roof despite their own human pain and emotion. Roof reportedly wanted to start a race war, but he failed. Because of the actions of those families—not of hatred but of hope, not of spite but sincerity—Roof lost. But there is hope even for this killer.
Even through the process he will undergo for conviction and sentencing, he may still have time to confess, repent and receive salvation as one victim’s son implored him to do, the same opportunity Jesus offered to the thief who hung next to him on a cross. We never know how God may use what those family members willingly offered—grace and forgiveness—to change a killer’s life.
Hate will not win.
Forgiveness always will.
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To learn more about Sara, visit her website at sarahorn.com, sign up to receive updates and receive a free printable of Forgiveness Scripture Memory Cards to help you in your own study and pursuit of forgiveness. It IS possible!