A lady came to our clinic. She had a problem and wanted to be prayed for. She spoke to me a little. I immediately discerned that she had another problem which was more serious than the one she was presenting to me.
I asked her if she was bitter against anyone. She waited for a while and then told me, “Yes, I am bitter against my former husband. He treated me very badly and finally divorced me and made no provisions for me and the two children we had together. I hate him.” Another woman said, “I am bitter against my husband because he brought another woman and pays more attention to her than to me.” Another said, “I am bitter against my mother-in-law. She helped to turn my husbands' heart against me.” A graduate told me, “I hate one girl with my total force. She preferred another man to me and put me to public shame. Each time I think of her, anger wells up in me and I long for revenge.” Another man said, “My boss stood in my way and so I was not promoted. I am waiting for the day when I shall hear of his death and then I shall celebrate.” Another man said, “This government threw me out of my job and shut me up in a cell. While I was in prison, I lost everything. I am waiting for the day that it shall be toppled and may it be soon. I would like it to be a bloody takeover and may whoever takes over be a ruthless destroyer who would spare no one. Then I shall be happy.”
All these statements come from people who are bitter. They were probably wronged by someone and they kept the wrong in their hearts and nourished it. They bear a grudge against someone or some group of people. They have not forgiven those who wronged them. They would like the people concerned to be punished for the evil they did to them.
THE DANGERS OF AN UNFORGIVING SPIRIT
An unforgiving spirit is one of the greatest liabilities that anyone can afford to have. An unforgiving spirit will destroy its owner in two major ways: it will lead to spiritual death and it may lead to physical death in the long run.
The Bible says,
“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your heavenly Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15).
“And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your trespasses” (Mark 11:25-26).
“So also my heavenly Father will do to everyone of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” (Matthew 18:35).
The Word of God is plain on the matter: those who do not forgive those who wrong them will themselves not be forgiven by the Lord. They may confess their sins to Him but, as there is someone whom they will not forgive, they will not be forgiven by the Lord. So, a person can forgive and then be forgiven or he can be unforgiving and have his sins retained against him by the Lord. If the Lord does not forgive anyone, that one is lost. This means that the one who has chosen not to forgive has also chosen to perish. Those who do not forgive are harbouring sin in their hearts and, as such, the Lord cannot hear them. Dear saint, this should make you see that forgiving those who have hurt you is not an optional affair. It is basic to spiritual life.
In this matter of forgiving those who have hurt you, it is not a matter that depends upon the fact that they have seen their wrong, repented of it and come to you for forgiveness. The forgiveness that the Bible here talks of, depends on you and not on those who have wronged you. It is the type of forgiveness that was manifested on the cross by the Lord when He prayed for His unrepentant crucifiers, saying,
“Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
To a certain extent, they knew what they were doing. At another level, they did not know what they were doing; for the god of this world had blinded their eyes. So, the Lord did not wait for them to repent and ask for pardon. He forgave them when there was no indication that they intended to repent. All believers are called to forgive in the same spirit.
The Bible demands that forgiveness be from the heart. It is not just words. I once read the story of two people who had quarrelled. Their relationship was broken for years. None of them did anything to restore the relationship. One day, one of the two men fell sick and felt that he could die. He sent for the other man and asked that they should make peace. The other man agreed and they shook hands as a symbol that their quarrel was over. No sooner had they removed their hands from each other’s grasp than the man who was sick said, “This reconciliation does not stand if I do not die.” He was prepared to act out a reconciliation, meanwhile, the forgiveness that the Lord wants must be deep and thorough. It must be from the heart. Since not forgiving is a sin, the act of bearing a grudge or being unforgiving must be confessed to the Lord as a sin, and cleansing sought. Then confession might have to be made to the person against whom the sin was committed. When this sin is being confessed to man, there should be no attempt to justify it. It is not a matter of going to someone and saying to him, “You did this and that against me. You were wrong, but I forgive you.” It is a matter of going to someone with a broken and contrite heart and falling before him and saying to him, “I sinned against God and against you by harbouring an unforgiving attitude towards you. It is all my fault. I am guilty. Please forgive me.”
Those who are repentant of the sin of having an unforgiving heart will not justify themselves. They will not even tell the person what led to the sin. They will confess it thoroughly. The reason why they would not expose the wrong that was done against them is that they see clearly that, regardless of whatever wrong was done to them, they have no justification, whatsoever, to be unforgiving. The truly repentant do not justify their sin in any way. They do nothing to palliate the wrong that they have done. They see themselves as having sinned, even if the other party is ninety-nine percent at fault.
The repentant put things right at once. They forgive immediately, even if they do not feel like it. They will forgive and carry out acts that befit forgiveness, regardless of how they feel. They move with their wills and thus cause their emotions to follow.
When a person forgives, he releases healing power. He is the first beneficiary from the healing power that is released by his forgiving someone. While there was the barrier between him and another person, part of his being was as if imprisoned. With the act of forgiveness, life flows anew into all of his being and the wounds that were caused by his sin of not forgiving, receive a healing touch.
An unforgiving spirit may lead to physical death. When a person meets someone against whom he holds a grudge, he gets disquieted from within. His body secretes substances that are toxic and harmful to his health. His blood pressure may rise. The initial hurt that was caused by the act that led to unforgiveness deepens and the wound expands. He becomes restless and his peace is gone. Things worsen as the one whom he has not forgiven prospers. He may say many evil things against the person and wish him a lot of evil in his thoughts. The unforgiven party knows nothing about the thoughts and the words that are harboured or spoken against him, and so is unaffected by them. However, the one who is bitter fires bullets against himself with every negative thought, wish or desire. He is, finally, the sufferer in the spiritual and physical realm.
We can sum this up by saying that a person with an unforgiving heart is doing terrible harm to himself at all levels. He should repent of this sin, confess it, forsake it and carry out restitution. He will receive inner healing for himself. He will also minister inner healing to the one he has forgiven; for, by opening himself up to loving the person and being loved by him, he blesses him.