We are so often hurt by others. Their words, like arrows, wound us. The way we handle these wounds will have much to say about our spiritual and physical health.
The world teaches revenge and spite. Lyle Lovett sings, “God will forgive you, but I won’t. And that’s the difference between God and me.”/1
The world says, I will never forgive them until they are sufficiently punished. Blues legend, Robert Johnson, recorded a song where the Devil leads him to beat his woman ’till he feels satisfied./2
While we abhor such behavior, we must be careful that Satan does not convince us to use words and mind games to do the same to those who wrong us. As one writer has said, “forgiveness is an unnatural act.”/3
It takes diligence to stay faithful to God’s plan, against our sinful desires.
One area sometimes overlooked in studies of forgiveness is the effect the failure to forgive has on our souls and lives.
Relationships are often ravaged by a refusal to forgive. Sometimes, family reunions more resemble a restaging of the trench warfare of World War One than the comradery of loved ones. Moreover, funerals are sometimes more emotional and tense because of unresolved anger.
Scripture presents some dangers of failing to forgive those who wrong us.
First, we can lose our souls. Matthew warns us that “if (we) do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will (our) Father forgive (our) trespasses” (6:15, NKJV).
Second, we can lose our health. Harbored hatred and resentment can destroy our physical bodies.
Solomon wrote, “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control” (Proverbs 29:11, NIV). He also wrote, “a hot-tempered man stirs up dissension, but a patient man calms a quarrel” (Proverbs 15:18, NIV). Paul wrote, “‘be angry, and do not sin’: do not let the sun go down on your wrath” (Ephesians 4:26).
These warnings about anger are certainly appropriate as we consider the damage a lack of forgiveness brings upon our minds and bodies.
Andre and Charles work at a large company together. Andre gossips and damages the reputation of Charles and his family. Charles, despite being a Christian, seeks revenge. Deciding against a public confrontation, he attacks Andre stealthily. Charles gives him the silent treatment and places gossip in the right ears. Remorseful, Andre apologizes and moves on with his life.
Charles continues to seethe about Andre’s actions. He thinks about it on his drive home, at night before he goes to sleep, and while he is feeding his baby son. When he sees Andre he swells with anger.
Charles’s anger becomes an obsession. He stops attending worship. His wife and children wonder why he is more angry at home. His blood-pressure rises, he develops an ulcer and sleeps less. Unbeknowst to Andre, he is haunting Charles day and night.
Andre has apologized and forgotten about the event. Yet, Charles has allowed Andre to take over his existence. Andre has now become the focus of Charles’ life, pushing God off of his throne. Charles is in danger of losing his soul because he refuses to forgive.
There is nothing that Andre did that was worth Charles’ soul. While Andre said some hurtful words, Charles was not required to seek revenge. Yet, Charles has willingly destroyed his health, damaged his relationship with his wife, children, friends and co-workers. The failure to forgive is very dangerous, perhaps eternally.
3/ Philip Yancey, “An Unnatural Act”, Christianity Today, 8 April, 1991.
What Are the Consequences of Refusing to Forgive?