The Real Power Of Forgiveness

To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you. Lewis Smedes

I wrote an article advancing a revolutionary notion: Forgiveness isn’t… easy.

No kidding.

We all struggle to forgive when we’ve been hurt. That’s sort of obvious.

So here’s a question: If it’s so hard, why bother? Why go to all the trouble of forgiving?

Why not get revenge? Why shouldn’t I make that other person suffer? Why just let it go and let him get away with it?

I know the bible tells me to forgive. I know Jesus talked about forgiveness. I know I’m supposed to forgive. But why?


Designers frequently answer basic operational questions with the acronym RTM: Read The Manual. When I’m not sure what I ought to do in life, I sometimes imagine Jesus smiling and whispering, “Read the manual.”

I think the bible is a sort of “owner’s manual” for humans, written to help us understand how we were intended to function.

An owner’s manual doesn’t provide arbitrary instructions. The designer carefully explains proper operation and maintenance to achieve optimum performance. I don’t follow directions just because the manual says so—I do it because I believe the designer knows best.

I think many of God’s commands are like that. He doesn’t arbitrarily tell us to do stuff just because He can. He gets no thrill from controlling or threatening us. He doesn’t sit around dreaming up ways to make our lives more difficult.

He wants us to live in the freedom and joy He intended for us. When He points in a particular direction, it’s because He knows that’s the path to true freedom. He’s the designer.

Why do I have to forgive?

It’s like asking why I have to put oil in my car’s engine. I don’t HAVE to do it, but things aren’t going to work properly if I don’t.

We like to imagine the other person suffering as we cling to our anger. We stubbornly embrace the pain, believing that the knot in our gut will somehow translate to theirs.

Does the other person lie awake at night as you endlessly rehearse those cutting remarks that’ll help you get back at them? Do they churn uncomfortably as you relive the painful events?

When you desperately hold on to the anger and resentment, who’s really harmed?

Refusing to forgive is like swallowing poison and waiting for the other person to suffer and die.

It’s a trick

I think our enemy wants us to focus on revenge. He wants us to remember the wrongs and center our attention on the pain. I think forgiveness is the very last thing he wants us to consider.

Why? Because he knows how we were designed. He knows that a desire for retribution takes our attention away from Jesus. He knows that we were designed for agape, and he’ll do anything to divert us from the path of love.

The enemy’s goal is our confinement. He knows that refusing to forgive traps us in a self-constructed prison of anger and pain.

It’s not easy

God doesn’t command forgiveness from afar. He’s not like the teachers of the law to whom Jesus said, “… you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.” [Luke 11:46]

God forgives me at the price of His Son. Jesus forgives me at the price of undeserved suffering and death. Forgiveness isn’t easy or free.

God forgives sacrificially, out of love, because love is His character.

Don’t seek to forgive because you’re supposed to, because God says so. Forgive because He first forgives you, and because it’s the only path to the freedom and intimacy for which He designed us.

When you hold resentment toward another, you are bound to that person or condition by an emotional link that is stronger than steel. Forgiveness is the only way to dissolve that link and get free. Catherine Ponder