The Way to Forgiving

I frequently counsel individuals who express an inability to forgive themselves or others. Typically, I hear them say, “I can’t forgive (them or myself).” Yet God’s Word is full of the commandment to forgive. In the King James translation of the Holy Bible, I made note of the following number of occurrences of the various forms of the word forgive (see Strong’s Concordance):

Forgive: 54

Forgave: 8

Forgavest: 2

Forgiven: 42

Forgiveness: 7

Forgivenesses: 1

Forgiveth: 2

Forgiving: 4

Total mentions: 120

Clearly the topic of forgiving is an important concept from God, and the topic is fairly evenly distributed between Old and New Testament. Here is a sampling of the definitions given for various Greek (G) and Hebrew (H) words translated to some form of forgive:


863-G-to send forth-forgive

3722-H-cancel, pardon, purge, reconcile

5375-H-carry away, ease, forgive, pardon, spare

5483-G-pardon, freely give

5545-H-forgive, pardon, spare

5547-H-forgiveness, pardon

While we may cast about to find an appropriate meaning of the word “forgive” for ourselves, the scriptures provide a rich enlargement of our understanding, especially in the idea of “carrying away,” “pardon,” “send forth,“  “purge,” and “spare.” Those are the words that describe what forgiving looks like in action.

At the heart of the phrase, “I can’t forgive” is a lie that people tell themselves. The lie attempts to cover up the truth, which is “I won’t.” You see, we humans never lose our God-given free will; we always have a choice regarding the action we will take.

Here’s another lie people tell themselves about forgiving, “I just feel….” To forgive or not does not come from a feeling. As a matter of will, it is a function of the mind that leads to action.

When Jesus’ disciples asked him to tell them how to pray, He included this verse in what we call the Lord’s Prayer: “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Jesus is telling us to ask God to forgive our debts (trespasses, sins) in the same way we forgive others. (Matthew 6:12) The implication is that if we do not forgive, we will not be forgiven by God. This is further borne up in Matthew 6:15 and Mark 11:26. “But wait,” the born-again believer will say. “All our sins are forgiven and will not be counted against us.” That also is true, yet Paul exhorts us not to use the grace of God as a foil for the liberty to continue sinning. The entire first chapter of Romans argues against continuing in sin after receiving the grace of salvation. Summarizing the whole text, Paul declares:

“15 What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. 16 Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?” (Romans 6:15-16)

So, why is it so hard to forgive?

Because the world tells us we have “rights,” and we want those who wrong us to pay. In this way we set ourselves up as prosecutor, judge, and jury to decide the charges, verdict, punishment, and restitution required.  In doing so, we usurp the role God reserves for Himself alone. Here are some scriptures to support this contention:

Romans 12:19: Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.

Matthew 7:2: For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

Finding your way to forgiving requires you to give up your right to judge against the one who wronged you. This goes against every fleshly desire, but it is not a fleshly issue. Forgiving is a spiritual gift given in obedience to the will of God.

When you forgive the one who wronged you, their wrongdoing no longer has a hold on you. So let God do the judging—it is His job. Then you can rest in His peace.

Dr. Susan A. Haberkorn, NCCA Licensed Clinical Pastoral Counselor