The Debate about Forgiveness
How do you know when you have forgiven a person who has betrayed you or hurt you deeply? One train of thought is that forgiveness is complete when you no longer have ill feelings when you think about the person. Another train of thought is that forgiveness is a decision we make in obedience to the Word of God, and it is independent of feelings. Could there be more to it than a decision or a feeling?
Is Forgiveness a Feeling?
As I pondered on the subject further, I thought within myself, when we are betrayed, the result is a soul wound that needs to heal. If I cut my finger, I apply an antibiotic and a bandage in order to expedite the healing process. However, God is the actual healer. When my soul needs healing, I can do those things that facilitate healing, but God is ultimately my emotional healer. If that is true, and healed emotions is evidence of forgiveness, I reasoned it would follow that God is really the one who is in control of whether we have forgiven or not and how long it takes to do so. Hmmm. As I continued to think about it, I found that concept hard to swallow.
The Bible says love is an action, not an emotion. Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). He didn’t say that love for him is a feeling or a confession. I’d like to submit to you that forgiveness is not a feeling, but a decision that is also evidenced by corresponding action. Just like “faith without works is dead” (James 2:17), forgiveness without works is dead also.
How Do You Know If You Have Forgiven?
In Matthew 5:44, Jesus told us to love, bless, pray for and do good to our enemies. That means we are to meet their needs whether we think they deserve it or not. We are to speak well of them. We are to pray for them fervently and kill them with kindness. I believe when we do those things, that is what facilitates healing of the wound that has been inflicted upon our soul through betrayal. It is like putting the antibiotic and a bandage on a cut, which quickens the healing process. Thus, if we 1) make a quality decision to forgive and choose to no longer hold the offense against them as an act of our will based on God’s requirement in the Word, and 2) do the four things the Word requires (love, bless, pray for and do good) regardless of how we feel in our emotions, we have forgiven that person. Love is an act, and I am convinced forgiveness also manifests as an act.
So forgiveness starts with a decision to forgive, but it’s more than that. It is a decision to act in ways that line up with the Word of God as it relates to how to deal with people who have hurt us. The next time you want to know whether you have forgiven someone, ask yourself these questions:
1) Am I willing to meet their needs?
2) Am I refusing to speak evil of them to others?
3) Am I willing blessing them by speaking well of them?
4) Am I sincerely praying for them?
5) Am I willing to treat them with kindness and do good to them?
If the answer to all of those questions is, “yes,” then it’s safe to say, regardless of how you feel in your emotions, you have forgiven that person.
When we love a person, we do what the Word says regardless of how we feel. Likewise, when we forgive a person, we will do what the Word tells us to do in spite of how we feel. If you are following what Jesus tells you to do, your feelings will eventually catch up with your actions as the wound in your soul heals by the power of His Spirit.
What are your thoughts on forgiveness and the way you personally know that you have forgiven someone who has hurt you? Leave a comment below.
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