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Your choice: Forgiveness or bitterness

A study on forgiveness found that 75 percent of those surveyed believed that God forgave them for past mistakes and wrongdoing. But of those who were polled, only 52 percent said they had forgiven others. That is called a disconnect. On one hand there are a lot of people saying, “God has forgiven me,” but on the other hand they are saying, “I haven’t forgiven other people.”

When you get down to it, forgiveness is the key to all relationships that are healthy, strong and lasting. As fatally flawed people, we are going to sin against others. We will hurt people, intentionally or unintentionally, and they will hurt us. Husbands will offend wives. Wives will offend husbands. Children will offend their parents. Parents will offend their children. Friends will offend friends. It will happen. Therefore, we need to learn how to forgive. Otherwise we will be miserable people.

There is no such thing as a perfect world with perfect people who aren’t going to mess up. And if there isn’t forgiveness, what the Bible calls “a root of bitterness” (see Hebrews 12:15) will take its place. And where a root of bitterness grows, that is the end of a relationship.

It probably has happened in your life. It has happened in mine. Someone will offend us, and we will get mad. I have seen this happen so many times over the most ridiculous things. For example, you hear that someone else said something about you. So you start thinking, They said that about me? I am so ticked off. Why would they say that? I have been a real friend to that person! Immediately you believe what you were told.

But did you go to that person and ask whether it was true? No. You just accepted it as gospel truth. And then you got angrier. And every time you saw that person, you thought about what he or she said. Then you started getting bitter, and then you started seeing everything through that lens of bitterness.

Then one day, you talked to that person and found out they never said that thing you thought they said in the first place. So all that anger and bitterness was for nothing.

Of course, we are living in a culture that doesn’t like forgiveness. When was the last time you saw a movie that exalted forgiveness? I can’t think of many. But I can think of a lot that deal with payback and vengeance. We live in a culture that believes in the old adage, “Don’t get mad, get even.” It is the exaltation of vengeance and violence everywhere you look.

If you get into a disagreement with your neighbor, you are served with papers, and they take you to court. The United States is the most litigious nation in the world. Then there is road rage, air rage and sideline rage, which is parental violence in youth sports. Ours is a crazy, vengeful, uptight society.

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As it has been said, to forgive is divine. I can’t do it in my own strength. To be honest, I am not the kind of person who naturally wants to forgive. I don’t defend this, but I do recognize it as a sinful aspect of who I am.

The idea of forgiveness isn’t an easy one to embrace, even for Christians. But forgiveness is not just suggested in Scripture; it is commanded by God himself (see Ephesians 4:32 and Colossians 3:13). And according to Jesus, our generous and constant forgiveness of others should be the natural result of our understanding the forgiveness God has extended to us. Jesus constantly pressed this issue. His sermons, his parables, his private talks and even his prayers often were filled with lessons about forgiveness. We would be blind to miss this point.

You are never more like God than when you forgive. Jesus modeled this so beautifully when he hung on the cross. The first statement he made was, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34 NKJV). From the cross, he was forgiving the very men who had driven the spikes through his hands, the very men who were standing at the foot of the cross, mocking and jeering at him.

Maybe you are going through a hard time. Maybe something bad has happened, and you can’t understand why God allowed it. I can’t explain it to you. I don’t know in a given situation why it has happened. But I have come to realize, through the passing of time, that things that can look bad today can look differently tomorrow … or a month from now … or a year from now.

You can’t make everything turn out the way you want it to turn out, but there is one thing you can do. There is one thing you have control over, and that is forgiveness. You can forgive. Forgive those who have wronged you. Forgive those who have taken advantage of you. Forgive those who have slandered you and made fun of you. Forgive those who have betrayed you.

Have your parents let you down? Forgive them. Has your husband hurt you? Forgive him. Has your friend betrayed you? Forgive her. Let it go.

What if they don’t deserve it? God has extended his forgiveness to us for our sins through the sacrifice of his son Jesus on the cross. Therefore, you should forgive others.

The Bible tells the story of Joseph, who was sold by his brothers into slavery in Egypt. After enduring years of hardship, Joseph came into a position of power. In time he had two sons, one whom he named Manasseh and another whom he named Ephraim. Manasseh meant “forgetting,” while Ephraim meant “success.” What does that tell us? It means that Joseph not only forgave, but he forgot. He didn’t keep a record of the wrongs committed against him. He just let it go.

If you want to find success in life, then learn to forgive and learn to forget.