Anger is a strong feeling of dislike, displeasure, or antagonism. It is connected to a host of other negative feelings and behaviors, including rage, hatred, bitterness, vengefulness, and violence.
What do you do if you are filled with rage or hatred or bitterness? What do you do if you are vengeful or violent? By God’s grace, you get rid of the sin of anger and replace it with the virtue of forgiveness.
Anger is an emotion that is set off when someone else has done something we do not like. We may be quite right in disliking what the other person has said or done. Sometimes, in fact, the offense is monstrous. But because the offense has a personal origin, the only way to free ourselves of the destructive emotion we feel and move ahead in life is to forgive the person who did wrong.
Of course, when we have been hurt, something inside us screams “No!” to the idea of forgiveness. It seems unjust. And do you know what? It is. When we forgive, we pay a price for a wrong that someone else has done. Jesus Christ paid the penalty for our sins on the cross. It was not just or fair, but He willingly did it so that mercy would triumph over justice. We follow in His footsteps when we forgive one who has committed an offense against us.
Another reason we might resist forgiving is that we conceive of unforgiveness as a type of revenge. We believe we are hurting the one who has hurt us if we withhold our forgiveness. That is foolish thinking. We are only hurting ourselves by holding on to a grudge.
Forgiveness does not necessarily mean suddenly having a warm feeling toward the one who has hurt us. We choose to forgive and we pray that the loving feelings will follow. This is loving by faith.
And what about reconciliation? A restored relationship should be our goal whenever it is a possibility. When the one who has offended us is a fellow Christian, we can follow the guidelines of Matthew 18 to initiate a process of confrontation that starts privately and adds on pressure and publicity if needed. When the offender is a non-Christian, we can still seek restoration of our relationship by humbly approaching the other and discussing what happened.
But reconciliation requires two. The other person may be unwilling to admit the wrong he or she has done and seek to restore the relationship. Or maybe you are unable to reconcile with the other person. You may not know how to get in touch with the offender anymore, or perhaps that person has died. And if the other person still presents a threat to you, as in the case of an abuser, it might not even be wise to reestablish contact. In such cases, remember that you can still forgive the person. Unlike reconciliation, forgiveness requires only one.
Hard as it is, forgiveness is a blessing to us because it frees us from anger and all the ill effects that anger brings upon us.
The preceding article is an extract from Chapter 11 of Soul Prescription by Bill Bright and Henry Brandt. To purchase the entire book or e-book click here.