When you think about great men and women of the Bible, King David’s name inevitably comes up. In fact, many would say he was their favourite. But if you take the time to look at how he finished his life, it did not seem to end very well. His last words to Solomon in 1 Kings 2:8-9 are an indicator of his feelings. We read, “And remember, you have with you Shimei son of Gera, the Benjamite from Bahurim, who called down bitter curses on me the day I went to Mahanaim. When he came down to meet me at the Jordan, I swore to him by the Lord: ‘I will not put you to death by the sword.’ But now, do not consider him innocent. You are a man of wisdom; you will know what to do to him. Bring his gray head down to the grave in blood.”
What we see in these words is David never forgot the insults targeted at him, nor did he forget. His last words were for his son to have him murdered. What an awful way to die.
Many people go through life with resentment. Defined, it is a feeling of displeasure, indignation at an insult, or an inability to forgive. That is one of the major issues couples have. Unforgiveness leads to resentment and bitterness, leading to an erosion of the relationship.
In 1 Corinthians 13, we find what is known as the love chapter. In verse 5, this description of love is given: “It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” At one time or another, all of us has been betrayed or disappointed by someone. I can remember asking a pastor why he did not have any friends in his church and his response was he had been stabbed in the back in the past so he refused to allow it to happen again.
Being hurt or disappointed is the risk of relationships. When it happens, how do we respond? How many of us have ever written someone off or held a grudge against them for a long period of time? How does it make us feel?
Resentment has consequences. It destroys relationships. Again, think about how many marriages and families have broken up from resentment. Even the smallest bit of unforgiveness can lead to a battle between the “Hatfields and McCoys.” Resentment also has an effect on ourselves. Job 5:2 says, “Resentment kills a fool, and envy slays the simple.” When we hold resentment, it can lead to depression and sickness. During a period of depression, Martin Luther’s wife told him to stop acting as if God had died. How many of us do that?
So, how do we let go of it? Our example, our role model in all aspects of life is Jesus – He is our prototype in being forgiving. We can find examples from His life. In Luke 22, we read about Peter who disappointed Jesus by denying Him three times. But later he was given the opportunity to reaffirm His love for Jesus and reinstated. When Jesus was on the cross, He could have called down legions of angels yet He chose to forgive and die. Before that, while being tortured, asked God to forgive them.
So how do we treat ourselves when we suffer hurt, rejection, or abuse? How do we learn to forgive others? The truth is, people are mere humans and will often make mistakes. As much as we want to think the best of people, they are always going to disappoint us and in turn, we will disappoint others. Marriage is the primary relationship where this is experienced.
One of the big things in society today is victimization. Wrongs done to groups in history are held on to. Resentment is often created making forgiveness and reconciliation difficult. If we stop and look at our own lives, we will see that we are victims, but we have also victimized others.
But the question then is, how should we respond when we are hurt?
The first step is we need to admit the problem. Pastor and author Rick Warren says, “Revealing your feeling is the beginning”. I was going through a process of conflict resolution with someone and the mediator said, “focus on the feelings, not on the facts” This helped immensely. Most conflict is usually not about “right and wrong” but how we are feeling about what happened. In Job 7:11 we read: “Therefore I will not keep silent; I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.” We can always take things to God. He is always ready to hear our story regardless of how we feel.
Secondly, we must decide to forgive. In the Lord’s Prayer, we read that we need to forgive as we have been forgiven. Archibald Hart said, that forgiveness is “surrendering my right to hurt you for hurting me.” We often think forgiveness is a choice but according to Jesus, we must choose to forgive if we expect to receive God’s forgiveness. Mark 11:25 says, “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive your sins.”
Thirdly, there must be of action after making our decision. Communion is often seen as a time of sombre reflection and confession of our sins. Dealing with our sin with God is good, but more often than not, we neglect to work things out with the other person. In Matthew 18:15, we read, “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you.”
Forgiveness means you release the hurt and resentment. But there is another step that is necessary. Forgiveness has an active part. We not only need to release our feelings, but we also need to release the offender. In Romans 12:19, Paul writes, “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.”
As much as we think we can, the reality is, we cannot change people. I can remember reading about Ruth Graham and her relationship with Billy. “Surprisingly,” Billy wasn’t the model husband and father most people think he was. She discovered with all her feelings towards Billy and his shortcomings, she couldn’t change him. What was her solution? Pray, because only God can change people’s hearts and lives. Ezekiel 36:26 says, “ I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”
Lastly, we must focus on the future. Hebrews 12:15 says, “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” Grace is about change and moving on. Roots are about staying in one place, never moving, never changing. Resentment and unforgiveness are like an anchor keeping us from becoming.
The late Abraham Lincoln was once asked how he was going to treat the rebellious Southerners whom they had just defeated and returned to being a part of the States. The questioner expected fury and vengeance. Instead Lincoln responded with “I will treat them as if they had never been away.” How could he do that? He was looking at the future, not dwelling in the present or past.
If Jesus can forgive each of us for everything we have ever done against Him, then with His power, we have the capacity to forgive those who have offended us. William Arthur Ward said, “We are most like beasts when we kill. We are most like men when we judge. We are most like God when we forgive.”
Forgiveness is hard. It is one of the toughest choices for anyone. But it has to start in our own hearts first. So my challenge to each of us, myself included, is we must choose to forgive. When we forgive, we allow God’s grace to cover the sin, His oil of joy to heal our hearts and His Spirit to fill us and help us to become more like Jesus so that we can model and live the grace shown to us to a world filled with hate and bitterness.