Question #2 How To Forgive

I've really appreciated the caliber of the questions I've been getting. Today's question is no different. It too comes from an anonymous asker and is a question I wrestled with at one point myself: "My question to you is how to forgive somebody who has hurt you badly. The Lord preaches forgiveness, and yet I cannot find it in me to forgive. Can I spend my life wishing the worst for this person and still be forgiven?"

This is really two questions as I read it: "How do I forgive?" and "If I can't/won't forgive, can I still be forgiven?" While I'll do my best to answer both of those below, I don't want to start without saying something to you personally. I don't know who you are, and I don't know the pain in your life that you're referring to. I hope that my answer is helpful, but it may not be sufficient by itself. If I can be of any further help please don't hesitate to contact me here.

Forgiveness is a tough topic, especially for those of us who have suffered great pain and suffering at the hands of another. I struggled with this very question in my own life. Without taking up too much space telling the story, I'll say this: I grew up without a dad. Something all too common in our culture. My dad is an alcoholic, he's been in recovery for just shy of five years now and today, we have a good relationship. He does a pretty good job of being a dad to a grown son and he does a great job of being a "pépère" to my kids. It wasn't always like this. When I was a young teen, I told my mother that I didn't want to know if he had died because I wouldn't bother with the funeral anyway. He was dead to me already. That was easier for me. 

Without knowing your story I can only tell you how destructive that experience was for me. Anger and bitterness grew within me toward my father, and I was unwilling to see him as a man with an illness because all I saw was my own pain at what he'd done to me by being absent. It wasn't until I became a Christian and started to understand what sin was that my heart began to change.

My dad sinned against me, but it wasn't until after I had forgiven him that I started to see the man as he was. Sick, and in need of compassion and help. The reality is even more stark when you scale up all the way to God Himself. We all have sinned against God. The imperfect have sinned against the Perfect, the mortal against the Immortal, the unholy against the Holy. When humans sin against other humans, however violent, tragic, or personal we are at least on the same playing field. God is so far beyond us, when we sin against Him, we are committing what R.C. Sproul calls "cosmic treason." When you and I commit treason of that magnitude, we have little defense and little recourse.


Ephesians 2:1-5 carries one of the most beautiful turns of phrase in scripture: "You were dead in your trespasses (sins) [...] but God [...] made us alive together with Christ" It's when we see the weight and magnitude of our sin compared to the majesty and holiness of God and we realize that He forgave us, and that he sacrificed his own Son to do it, that's when we, or at least I, can begin to see why we must forgive. If He can forgive us of everything up to and including the cold-blooded and unjust murder of His Son, what right do we have to deny anyone forgiveness? That's how I finally came to forgive my dad, and it's my prayer that whatever your pain is, that that truth: He forgave you, would lead you to forgive as well.

As to whether or not you can still be forgiven for wishing "the worst" on someone for your whole life. It sounds just by the phrasing of the question, like you're looking for a way to make sure you're still "safe" and saved while praying and hoping for someone else's condemnation. I hope that's not the case, because that's a whole different issue altogether. I hope I'm just reading that in and it's not what you're asking.

If it's your desire to forgive, or eventually be in a place where you can forgive but aren't now, I'd say that we worship a big God who knows our hearts. I'd encourage you to pray for wisdom and for His grace to be able to forgive, because as James says: "Mercy triumphs over judgement." At the end of the day though, again, not knowing your story, if it really is too much to bear, being unable to forgive isn't a sin bigger than He is.

Thanks for asking, I hope that answers your question or is at least helpful.

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Posted on February 18, 2015 .