From “Growing in the character of a disciple”: Chapter 14 – How to forgive people in practical terms – some advice on what to do and how to go about it
Many people struggle and get confused because they don’t realise, or they keep forgetting, that forgiveness is primarily something we do, not something we feel. To a very large extent, feelings follow actions. Thus, merely by the physical act of speaking the words of forgiveness and doing tangible things such as praying for the wrongdoer, your feelings will eventually come into line with what you are saying and doing.
It is important to remember this when you feel you just can’t bring yourself to forgive someone, or where the bitterness won’t go away. If you, nonetheless, force yourself to speak out the words offorgiveness and to pray for the wrongdoer, you will find that your feelings towards him will gradually alter.
What was initially unthinkable will start to become thinkable. After that, it will become possible and, eventually, it will be achieved. If you don’t realise that forgiveness is sometimes only possible if it is done in stages, and that it is primarily a decision, not a feeling, you could waste years of your life just waiting forlornly for your feelings to change.
However, they won’t. If anything, the bitterness usually gets more intense as time goes by. So, it is a major error to imagine that you must feel like forgiving before you can actually forgive. That is not true. The truth is that most of us won’t ever feel like forgiving. Why would we? It doesn’t work that way. We are sinners, with a flesh nature, to which forgiving others does not come naturally.
Moreover, we are still living in this sinful world, surrounded by other sinners who don’t believe in forgiveness either. We are not yet glorified, or even fully sanctified, so why should we expect forgiveness to be easy or to be something that we would ever ‘want’ to do. It’s not a question of wanting to forgive, but of choosing to do so. That choice need not have anything to do with our feelings.