August 12, 2022

Forgive, Even If We Can’t Understand

Why can’t I forgive him? A few months ago, I scrambled in bitterness over a seemingly ‘small’ wrong-doing. I usually could forgive easily. Why was this case different?

I realized that I normally try to understand the wrong-doer’s original pain, and then sympathize. “Hurt people hurt people” has always rung true to me. So, when I was slandered, or misjudged, or worse, I’d remember they had a hard childhood, or a bad day, or a traumatic past experience. And because of this, I’d have grace for them and (of course) forgive. Even if I’d never done what they did, I understood the idea of letting past pain influence my present actions. I could have grace for that.

But a few months ago, I couldn’t understand the wrong-doer. I couldn’t rationalize why they were harmful and careless. Their sin seemed haphazard, random, and without excuse. I tried imagining the past hurts that could cause this, and nothing fit.

But I wanted to be able to understand their wrong-doing so I could have more compassion for them.

We see this in ministry often. When someone wrongs us, others tell us about the wrong-doer’s hard season, or about their rough family life. We try to feel grace for others by finding excuses for their bad behavior. More understanding is great, but it shouldn’t be required for forgiveness. 

It was never meant to be so much work to forgive.

My forgiveness for others was resting on my ability to feel compassion or empathy for them because of the pain they’ve had in their lives. I’d forgive anyone for their wrong-doing because I could understand and give grace.  

And it worked every time until this recent experience. And I’m so thankful, because this experience taught me that when someone mistreats me, God never desired or required me to figure out why they sinned to be able to have grace for them. He doesn’t need me to unravel the pain they caused until I can excuse them or relate to them. He doesn’t need me to engage in reason and theory at all. 

All God wants me to do is to forgive them because “they know not what they do.” 

When Jesus said this on the cross, He didn’t mean that the people there were unaware of his crucifixion. All on-lookers could see the man on the cross, dying brutally. He meant that, deep down, they didn’t know the reality of themselves, of Him, and of the world. If they did, they wouldn’t have done what they did. 

When people gossip or slander or, even worse, kill or rape, they usually know what they are doing in the physical sense. 

But they don’t know the reality of themselves, of you, or of the world. They don’t know ultimate truth, they don’t know the best way, and they don’t know how to perfectly follow Jesus. So even when they know what they’re doing, they still “know not what they do.” 

And at times, neither do we. 

So now, if someone hurts me, I feel the freedom to lay down my need to understand (or imagine) why they did what they did. I don’t need to think of their hard childhood, or about their hurts and pains. It is beyond my pay grade to let my brain engage in these thoughts for even a second. God is the one who can know all things. All I was ever meant to do was to live completely free from judgment and bitterness, and to forgive others because “they know not what they do.” 

I still cherish understanding others, but now, I do it as an extra practice. Now, I forgive first- without understanding. I forgive because this is the reality God wants me to live in: free from bitterness and the torment of figuring everything out. And then I seek understanding because it helps me in communicating and loving others well. 

If we spend our time trying to have grace for someone through logic, we are acting as judges. We spend our time sorting through information trying to understand. But instead, God gave us with the easier job of being sons and daughters. God can have the bigger job of searching others’ hearts. We can choose to live inside of the system of forgiveness instead of trying to muster up forgiveness instance by instance. We can then hand every bitterness in our hearts to God, forgiving always- even if we don’t understand. 

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