Why I Can’t Forgive


Occasionally, it’s a major crisis that forces us to choose between forgiveness and unforgiveness, such as an unfaithful spouse, an unwanted divorce, an unfair termination from your job, sexual abuse you
experienced as a child, or a slanderous rumor that has cost you your reputation. But most of the time it is lesser offenses that we must deal with like being overlooked by a friend or a fight with our spouse.
Regardless of the size of the offense, forgiveness is not usually the preferred response.

Why do Christians, who have been forgiven so much, have such difficulty giving others?

There are three reasons why I can’t forgive:

1. I don’t understand what forgiveness is and what it isn’t. A failure to understand the true nature of forgiveness leads to prolonged bitterness, illegitimate fears and unnecessary guilt, and prevents us
from receiving and granting life’s most important gift!

2. I’m riding the “guilt-blame” seesaw. Remember riding a seesaw as a child? What happened when a mischievous playmate suddenly scrambled off the seesaw? CRASH! The only way you and your partner could ensure a safe landing was to get off the seesaw simultaneously. In the human mind, there is a seesaw with one side labeled “guilt” and the other side labeled “blame” to balance your “guilt”. The more guilt you feel for your own mistakes, the more blame you must pile on to remain in emotional equilibrium. But what happens if you suddenly get rid of the blame toward others (through forgiveness) without also removing your guilt? You will emotionally crash!

Our sense of self-preservation keeps us from forgiving – we don’t want to grant forgiveness and be left holding the bag of personal guilt. So, in reality, it is our guilt for our own personal failures in our
relationships that prohibits us from forgiving others. If we do choose to forgive, we will attach blame to someone else to keep in emotional balance. One reason we’re hesitant to forgive people is that it is much
easier and safer to blame others for our problems than to blame the most logical culprit – ME! After all, that would put all the weight on my side of the seesaw!

The only way to get off the seesaw safely is to remove your guilt and stop blaming others at the same time. But how do I remove my guilt? That’s where the third reason comes in.

3. I can’t give away what I don’t possess. It is basically impossible to impart something to another person that you have not fully experienced. If the majority of people on this planet have never experienced the unconditional forgiveness of God, is it any wonder they have difficulty forgiving others? You can’t give away what you don’t possess. Only the forgiven can truly forgive! But wait – that should mean that the church should be filled, not only with FORGIVEN people, but also with FORGIVING people. Why are church people so often unforgiving? Because many of them have a knowledge that God forgives, but no experience of forgiveness.

Dawn Smith Jordan had to learn about forgiveness the hard way. On May 31, 1985, her seventeen-year-old sister, Sherrie Smith, was abducted while walking from her car to the mailbox. Five days later Sherrie’s body was discovered. Soon afterward the Smith family received a letter in the mail that had been written by Sherrie. The kidnapper had allowed her to write it before he murdered her, then had mailed her letter. Sherrie called her letter “my last will and testament.”

She wrote, “I love you all so much. Please don’t let this ruin your lives. Keep living one day at a time for Jesus. Don’t worry about me because I know I’m going to be with my Father.” Since the time Sherrie
and Dawn were little girls, their father had made a practice of taping scripture verses to the bathroom mirror for them to memorize. Now, in the moment before she was to die, Sherrie recalled one of those verses and wrote, “Everything works out for the good of those who love the Lord. All my love, Sherrie.”

A few years later, however, she received a letter that would forever change her life. The killer wrote to Dawn to let her know that he had become a Christian. “Dawn,” he asked, “will you and your family ever
forgive me for what I have done?” HOW WOULD YOU RESPOND? Dawn said, “I knew as a Christian that when somebody wrongs you, you forgive them. That’s basic knowledge. Yet all of a sudden forgiveness was a lot harder to do.”

God brought her to Ephesians 4:32, “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”

Dawn declares, “It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t overnight. But God gave me the answer that I needed. We are to forgive just as Jesus forgave us. I was finally able to sit down and write a letter to
Mr. Bell telling him that only because of the grace that I have received in my life could I let him know that he was forgiven.”

There is an inseparable link between receiving God’s forgiveness and granting forgiveness to others. Christians should be better forgivers than non-Christians because they’ve been forced to admit their own failures. When we realize the great gulf that God overcame to forgive us, the gap between us and our offender seems quite insignificant! In God’s eyes, we all need forgiveness – there is no difference between the preacher and the prostitute, the governor and the gunman, or the sophisticate and the savage. Compared to the holiness of God, such differences in human behavior are negligible! When we understand that the same evil that motivated our offender to hurt us resides in our heart as well, we’re in a much better position to forgive! And remember that it was God (the offended party) who took the initiative to seek reconciliation with us, even though we didn’t deserve it!