Do you find it easy to forgive? Or do you struggle to forgive others when they hurt you or a loved one?
I wish forgiveness came easy to me. But, I really struggle to forgive.
When someone wrongs me, I make it very clear that they have hurt me and then come up with a mental checklist of things they need to do to be forgiven.
However, this is not how God is. God's forgiveness is abundant. And more than that, Jesus is actually drawn to people who sin against Him. He moves toward sinners. Jesus does not keep us at an arms-length when we sin. Instead, He draws close and advocates for us to God (1 John 2:1). Can you imagine advocating for someone who has sinned against you? I can't. Honestly, the more I think about God's forgiveness, it bewilders me.
The idea of God's radical forgiveness hit home as I read Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers by Dane Ortlund. You may have heard of this book. The Daily Grace Co. recently hosted Ortland on our podcast (you can click here to listen to it). However, I didn't know that we were hosting Ortland on our podcast when I picked up the book a few months ago at my local bookstore. I actually bought the book because the title and front cover compelled me to purchase it. Beautiful cover aside, within the contents of this book lays an engaging exposition of Christ's heart.
Gentle and Lowly overwhelmed me with a presentation of how loving and merciful Christ's heart is. And, as I continued to read through the book, I became completely aware of how far my heart currently is from looking like His.
Now, I know that there is nothing I can do to work for my salvation. I also know that because I have faith in Christ, Christ has put His righteousness on me, and as mentioned earlier, advocates for me. I know that sanctification (becoming Christlike) is a lifelong process and will only be complete when I stand before my Savior after my life on Earth is over. That said, as I read this book, I started to want the way I forgive others to look more like the way God forgives us. God's forgiveness is beautiful, and my heart's tendency toward unforgiveness looks ghastly in contrast.
As I dove deeper into the book, I realized how I much misunderstood the extent of God's mercy. What is amazing, though, is that this is something God was already working out in me even before I picked up this book. I recently edited a study that works through the entire Old Testament (coming in late 2021!), and for the first time, I noticed how long-suffering God really is.
I know the God of the New Testament was the same God of the Old Testament. Still, I tend to focus more on God's anger toward the Israelites than His mercy. However, as I read through the Old Testament in its entirety, I realized that God gave the Israelites chance after chance to return to Him. His mercy abounds throughout the Old Testament. Ortlund describes God's mercy perfectly when he writes, "We tend to think: divine anger is pent up, spring-loaded; divine mercy is slow to build. It's just the opposite. Divine mercy is ready to burst forth at the slightest prick" (148).
After reading that, I had to set aside the book and allow those words to marinate in my heart. I have a quick temper. I feel like I often go through my day holding back my anger. Lately, I feel like every time my husband is late or does something I view as an offense to me–I am quick to remind him in a less-than-kind tone of his mistake. Rarely do I look at it as an opportunity to show him mercy. And it is not just my husband who experiences my unforgiveness. Strangers who cut me off in the car or cut in line at the grocery store will quickly experience my "justice."
But, God is not like that. God is quick to show mercy, and it takes Him a long time to become angry. Even then, God's anger only lasts for a moment, and His steadfast love endures for a thousand generations (Deuteronomy 7:9). Ortlund uses Isaiah 54:7-8 to further show the abundance of God's mercy,
For a brief moment I deserted you,
but with great compassion I will gather you.
In overflowing anger for a moment
I hid my face from you,
but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you.
And what is perhaps most incredible is that God is still perfectly just. Sin is still punished. And as Ortlund writes, "God is not mocked" (150). Yet, He is just in His mercy because He gave His own Son to receive our punishment so that we could receive His Son's righteousness. Can you imagine saying to someone, "What you did was terrible. But, I am going to pay the penalty of your sin against me so you can receive my forgiveness"? But that is what God did. God's mercy is radical, and we are already recipients of His abounding forgiveness.
As I read about God's mercy, something in my heart began to change. Like a tightly wound-up bud finally opening to a spring sun, I felt my heart beginning to unravel and soften in the best way. I desperately want to be the type of person that is quick to show mercy. When someone wrongs me, I want to see it as an opportunity to forgive–not as an opportunity for them to work to make their way back into my good graces.
That said, I know that I cannot do this on my own. As much as I try, I am naturally prone to show anger before I show mercy. I need God to continue to transform me into Christlikeness. So, I will continue spending time with Him, reading my Bible, and praying. All the while, I will stand in awe of His great mercy and grace, thankful that someday I will shed this fleshly nature and spend forever in His perfect presence.
As I conclude today's discussion on forgiveness, it is of utmost importance to say that if you are in an abusive relationship, you should seek safety and perhaps receive biblical counseling. Additionally, there is nothing wrong with speaking the truth and holding our loved ones accountable. In fact, that is biblical (Galatians, 2:11-13, 4:16). Forgiveness as Christians does not mean that we cease to speak truth in love.
Finally, if you haven't already, I recommend you pick up Dane Ortlund's book Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Suffers and be reminded of God's incredible love and mercy for you.