“Why should I forgive the Russians?” Olga * stared at me from across the table. She had fled her native Ukraine because of the war while her husband stayed behind to fight. Her life had become an unending torrent of upheaval, loss, and grief, not to mention the constant worry for her loved ones back home. She had every right to wonder about forgiveness. Why should she forgive the ones who had caused such pain and destruction?
Anyone who knows anything about Christianity knows that forgiveness is central to its message. It teaches us how to obtain God’s forgiveness and expects us to forgive each other as well. Jesus became the ultimate example of this when he forgave those who crucified him … while they were still mocking and jeering at him as he hung on the cross.
Forgiveness is difficult, if not impossible. So God better have some good reasons why we should! And, of course, he does. All his commands are ultimately for our good, even if it’s not so apparent initially. I’d like to examine three reasons why forgiveness is always the better option.
Forgiveness takes justice out of our hands and places it into God’s. Many people balk at forgiving because they wrongly believe it minimizes the wrong done as if it were a giant eraser that wipes away the transgression from history. But that is not the case at all.
God has made it clear that he is the judge before whom everyone will have to give an account. When we forgive, we give up our right to bring justice, knowing that God will be the one to judge what happened. We acknowledge that he is better suited to deal with the offense justly and righteously. Justice will be served, and our Creator is much better qualified than we are to bring it about.
If the wrongdoing is against the law, God often uses governments to administer justice—that’s one of the reasons why he established them in the first place. But even if someone never appears before a human judge, they won’t escape God’s judgment.
So when we forgive, we no longer carry the burden of having to mete out punishment— leaving that in God’s hands—and we can walk away free. We can then focus on other, more positive endeavors.
Forgiveness is vital for our mental and physical health. I once watched a talk show where rape victims shared their horrifying experiences. When asked what role forgiveness played in their healing, all the women simultaneously sat up straight and exclaimed that it was the key.
God knows us better than we know ourselves, and he understands precisely how toxic unforgiveness is to our souls. Modern psychology only confirms this, with countless research documenting the devastation it brings to our psyche and physical health. It’s no wonder God calls us to forgive.
When we forgive, we choose to no longer hold the offense against the perpetrator. Our emotions are rarely in sync with our decision, and that’s okay. They need time to catch up to our choice. But forgiveness closes the door to all the poisons and toxins poised to flood our hearts and minds.
Forgiveness brings reconciliation—with a condition. When a relationship is broken, the path toward restoration must pass through forgiveness … and repentance. Let’s look at the example that God has set for us. When Jesus died on the cross, he paid for every sin ever committed, but not everyone benefits from his forgiveness. Only those who repent and recognize their need for a Savior are reconciled to God.
Forgiveness is a one-way street from the injured person to the offender and has no conditions. But the restoration of a relationship depends on both parties involved: forgiveness from the victim and remorse from the culprit. And even if both sides take the necessary steps, it may still be a long road to complete reconciliation, depending on the offense, because trust takes time. But there would be no chance without forgiveness.
I was recently thinking about a particular situation where I still held a grudge when a thought hit me like a ton of bricks: How can I tell Ukrainians to forgive the Russians when I can’t even forgive this? Ouch! I can’t, of course, and so in my heart, I immediately set about making it right. No matter how big or small the offense against us, God wants us to hand it over to him, let it go, and move forward in freedom.