The vital importance of forgiving other people
We have looked closely at the need for us to repent of our sins, but what about other people’s sins towards us? What should we do? What should our attitude and response be? The answer is clear, but it's not easy. We are commanded to forgive others. Then we are to leave it to God to judge and punish them if they do not repent, or to bless and forgive them if they do:
Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. Romans 12:19 (NIV)
If we do not forgive others, and instead hold onto the bitterness and resentment and nurse our anger, it grows inside us like a tumour. That cancer of bitterness will not necessarily hurt the other person, but it will certainly damage you. It will affect, and even ruin, your life and will rob you of peace and joy. That is true even if the person who wronged you is wicked and you were an innocent party. The same principle still applies.
Forgiveness therefore means letting it go and handing over to God the responsibility for judging and punishing the wrong done to you. He has promised He will do that. Therefore, if you know He is going to judge it all, then why do you need to usurp the responsibility for doing so? You are the wrong person to judge or punish the wrongdoer. You do not have total wisdom, knowledge and understanding as God does. He knows exactly how to handle it, and He will do so, in His time, not yours.
If you let go of the wrong and hand it all over to God, you will be set free from bitterness. You will feel better and a burden will lift. This is a true of any wrong done to you, whether large or small. So you will benefit if you forgive everyone who has wronged you. If you seek to be the ‘judge and executioner’ yourself then you are usurping God’s role. It’s as if you are saying to God “No, I will be the judge, not you. I will repay them myself”. That would be rebellion.
Tragically, when we are wronged by others, it can often lead us into sin ourselves as we adopt that attitude of seizing God’s role as judge. Even worse it can cause us to sin in other ways too as we seek to get even, which can often mean repaying one wrong with another wrong. Instead, God wants us to do the very opposite and to forgive other people when they do wrong to us:
...as the Lord has forgiven you so you must forgive each other. Colossians 3:13(NIV)
In fact, God insists that we forgive others and He even goes as far as to make it a condition of His forgiving us:
14"For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15"But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions. Matthew 6:14-15 (NASB)
(See chapter five of Book Two in this series for more detail on how to forgive other people and what it really involves).
But how do we forgive people in practical terms? If has to begin with prayer. We need to ask God to give us the grace to be able to forgive. In ourselves we may not be capable of it. But He can give us the ability to do it, if we ask. We also need to realise that forgiveness is a decision, not a feeling. We do not need to wait until the hurt or anger has gone. We must forgive the person now, even if those angry feelings continue, which they are likely to do.
Forgiveness does not depend on feelings. It is something you do as a decision of your will. Therefore you can do it even if you are unable to stop feeling anger/hurt/bitterness. Simply decide to speak the words of forgiveness, and let the feelings come later.
I should also add that this does not mean that we are never to sue people or go to the police. We can do those things if we are wronged, (and if that is the right thing to do). The point is that you then leave it to a lawyer or to the police to act and even to dwell on it, instead of you doing so. God has put in place civil authorities and police for that very purpose. They are doing His work and are a part of His judgment of wrongdoers.
But even when we do go to the police, we personally are still to forgive and release the offender from our thoughts. Then we can leave it to the police, or others, to deal with it instead of us seeking vengeance ourselves.