Many people have trouble forgiving because somewhere along the way, they started believing that forgiveness is something it’s not.
Here are five common myths about forgiveness and what the Bible actually says.
1. Forgiveness Does Not Mean Excusing the Offender
In fact, the act of forgiveness actually enables the offender to be brought to justice. That is what the Bible says. When we try to get back at the person, we’re taking vengeance into our own hands, but when we choose to forgive, we are leaving room for the “wrath of God.”
Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written: “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. (Rom. 12:19 NASB)
If you sense that your heart is seeking revenge, take a deep breath and know that the Lord has not left you alone. He has a plan, and He is going to take care of this for you.
2. Forgiveness Does Not Mean Forgetting the Offense Ever Happened
This is a huge myth that the world (and much of the church) has embraced. “Forgive and forget!”
No. The Bible does not say we have to forget what someone did to us. Nowhere does it say, “You have to blindly act like this didn’t happen if you want to forgive this person.”
If you still feel the pain of a terrible situation or event, don’t condemn yourself because of that pain. Forgiveness does not mean forcefully forgetting.
3. Forgiveness Does Not Mean Denying the Pain
There is a tendency to think that if we have truly forgiven someone, then we no longer feel pain over what they did. But look at the Psalms—they are filled with references to pain, anguish, grief, and rage at what other people have done. We can feel those ways and forgive at the same time.
My best friend has betrayed his friends. He has broken his solemn promise... Turn your burdens over to Yahweh, and he will take care of you.He will never let the righteous person stumble. (Ps. 55:20, 22 NOG)
If you still feel angry because of a painful situation, don’t take on any shame that says you aren’t enough or you’re failing. Ask the Lord what He says about you and the pain in your heart.
4. Forgiveness Does Not Mean Trusting the Offender
In the Old Testament, David forgave Saul but did not feel obligated to trust him, even after Saul repented.
Here’s Saul’s apology in 1 Samuel 26:21:
Then Saul said, “I have sinned. Return, my son David. For I will harm you no more, because my life was precious in your eyes this day. Indeed I have played the fool and erred exceedingly.” (NKJV)
And here is the first verse of the very next chapter:
David said in his heart, “Now I shall perish someday by the hand of Saul. There is nothing better for me than that I should speedily escape to the land of the Philistines; and Saul will despair of me, to seek me anymore in any part of Israel. So I shall escape out of his hand.” (1 Sam. 27:1 NKJV)
David knew better than to trust this man who had tried to kill him, and this decision was wise on his part.
If you are in a position where you have had to withdraw from someone, don’t feel like you must restore contact in order to forgive them. That is not a weight you need to pick up.
Instead, be wise. Talk to the Holy Spirit. Seek others’ counsel. Discern when the time is right—if the time is right. Obviously, a restored relationship is a gift from the Lord, but certain kinds of restoration can happen only when the offender has stopped offending. If the Holy Spirit shows you that this person has not matured yet or found the healing they need, they might repeat their previous behavior if you let them close to you. Be free to forgive from a distance, like David did, and trust the Lord to lead you.
5. Forgiveness Does Not Mean No Longer Feeling Angry About What Happened
Many people believe that forgiveness and anger cannot coexist, but that is not true. Forgiveness is, simply, acknowledging what Jesus did on the cross. He came to remove sins and everything separating the children of God from their Father. True forgiveness is not the absence of anger.
After the cross does its work, there is nothing left to produce new anger, and eventually feelings of anger will dissolve away.
“But What Should I Do When I Feel Like I Can’t Forgive?”
In their book Choosing Forgiveness, John and Paula Sandford write that if you feel like you can’t forgive someone, you can ask God to come and do what you cannot.
That, right there, is a good starting point if you’re in a situation where you feel like you can’t forgive someone. You can ask God to come do what you cannot do—and in His incredible faithfulness, He will. He will comfort you with His love and rejoice over you with singing (Zeph. 3:17).
If this topic stirs your heart, check out these Elijah House resources:
Finally, if you’re struggling to forgive and want to hear the Lord’s voice more clearly in this area, prayer ministry might be for you. Click here to learn more.