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We’ve all done serious damage to other people in this world. We’ve said cutting words, shut people down, and done nasty things that left painful memories burning for years. Sometimes we hurt people on purpose, other times we crush them without even trying. Because we do not see each other’s hearts, none of us understand how much impact we have on virtual strangers. What we meant as an innocent joke might have hit some sensitive spot and ended up stinging like a vicious insult. We didn’t mean to do damage, but the damage is still done.
In His great mercy and compassion, God shields us from seeing the extent of the damage we’ve done to others. No doubt it would be very depressing, and He doesn’t want us to get stuck focused on our past mistakes and failures. But sometimes we can’t help getting stuck because the damage we’ve done is ever before us in the form of some devastated person who now refuses to forgive us. Maybe we hurt them accidentally by running over their child in the road. Maybe we hurt them on purpose by wrecking their marriage. Maybe we were the abusers and they were our victims for many years. Whatever the circumstances, we sincerely regret the damage that was done and desperately wish we could erase their pain. But we can’t. Thanks to us, they are now caught in the jaws of bitterness, anger, and hate and they aren’t about to move on. Maybe they can’t forgive us because they are just hurting too bad. Maybe they won’t forgive us because they want to get revenge for the damage we’ve done. Either way, we feel trapped by their grudge, and unable to get back into a right place with God until they are willing to forgive us.
At the end of the book of Job, God refused to forgive Job’s three twerpy friends unless Job prayed on their behalf (see Job 42:7-8). Luckily for the friends, Job was in a generous mood. If he hadn’t been, God would have withheld forgiveness and the friends would have been in a serious crisis–at least that’s how it sounded. But then again, God knows the future, and He knew that Job would choose to be merciful. His point in setting up that exercise was merely to underscore His support of Job, and emphasize His disapproval of those who had pretended to be loyal to God while their hearts were inwardly rebelling against Him. In real life, God never leaves our souls at the mercy of human judges. God judges us Himself, and He judges alone. He does not call on a jury of humans or angels to assist Him in forming a verdict. He couldn’t care less what other created beings think of us. God judges alone, and His judgments trump all others.
It is your soul attitude which God judges you by, not your past actions, and not other people’s view of you. Once you submit to Jesus as your God and Savior, He accepts you, and once Jesus accepts you, you are granted total forgiveness for all of your sins: past, present and future. Once God accepts you, He will never cast you out, no matter what. The only time sin will create a problem between your soul and God is when He is convicting you that you have done something wrong and you are telling Him to stuff it. Spiritual rebellion is a soul attitude which says, “I don’t care what You want, God, I’m doing things my way.” When you are clinging to rebellion, God is not going to be pleased with you. Because God loves you even when you’re being a rebellious brat, He will come up with ways of disciplining you until you repent. Repentance is a soul action, not an external behavior. Repentance is when our souls say to God: “I agree with You that my attitude towards You has been seriously rotten. But now I sincerely want to get back into good place with You. Please have Your way in my life and help me to honor You. Pleasing You is more important than pleasing myself.”
As long as you sincerely want to please God in your heart, you are in alignment with Him, and He is not going to hold your past against you. If another human feels that God should demand more of you before He allows you to return to a good place with Him, it’s too bad for them. God is only going to hold you accountable for how your soul responds to His direct convictions. Guilt trips and judgmental labels that other people use to try and control your behavior carry no weight in God’s court of law.
Once you have been accepted by God, repentance has nothing to do with obtaining forgiveness because God has already forgiven you for all of your sins. God isn’t a human. He doesn’t demand that you keep groveling at His feet, or re-expressing your remorse for what you have done. But humans are greedy and merciless and we love to be in a position of power. We like to hang mistakes over the heads of those who hurt us and erect walls of anger that we must be bribed into taking down. It is critical that you don’t confuse God with people.
As a Christian, it doesn’t matter what heinous crime you committed in the past. If you want to please God today, then He is so over it. Whatever terrible thing you did is old news. Even if you were trying to destroy lives and hearts at the time, if you care about pleasing God today, then He considers your past sins to be ancient history. You, demons, and the people currently holding grudges against you are the only ones stuck in the past. God has totally moved on, but He will take some backwards steps in order to pull you out of the muck of shame.
Grudge holding humans might be able to make you feel tormented with guilt, but they have zero influence with God and they cannot change His view of you. God makes up His own mind. When He says that you are forgiven and accepted by Him, that is what you are. When He says you are pleasing in His sight, then that is what you are and no bitter human can change your standing with God or throw up obstacles between you and Him. The more you understand how solid your position with God is, and how easy He is to succeed with, the less power other people will have over you.
RESPONDING TO HATERS
So how should you respond to people who refuse to forgive you? Even if it pleases them, you should not act like you have done an unpardonable sin by hanging your head low, using self-abasing language, and playing the part of a miserable worm in their presence. You have been completely pardoned by God and He wants you to fully embrace the freedom of your position. If someone can’t or won’t move on, ask God to help you see that person through His gracious eyes.
God has pity on all of us, and He understands why we get stuck. Your intimate understanding of why this person is so upset puts you in an excellent place to practice compassion. Compassion does not mean degrading yourself. Compassion is outward focused. When you think of the person who hates you, consider how miserable it is for them to be stuck in a position of grudge holding. It really doesn’t matter whether their anger is justified or not. There are a lot of good reasons to be angry, but that doesn’t make anger any less taxing to our souls. Whether you intentionally murdered my daughter or accidentally backed over her with your car, God calls me to forgive and move on. If I refuse to cooperate with Him, I will suffer for my rebellion.
Compassion cares about the fact that a soul is suffering, regardless of why. You can have compassion on those who hate you without accepting their hatred into your life. God has set you free from shame and condemnation. It’s critical that you don’t let anyone wrestle that freedom away from you because it is rightfully yours by God’s decree.
When someone refuses to forgive someone who hurt them, both people can end up stuck in the past. It then becomes up to each individual to follow God’s leading back to freedom. As the one who is being grudged against, your task is to set human opinions aside and focus on the fact that you are totally forgiven by God. Even if you did something that the entire world considers unforgivable, God is your Judge, and His ruling trumps all others. Resist the urge to keep groveling to the one who is withholding forgiveness. Sincere apologies should be said once, but they should not be repeated a million times. It is important that you move on, not only for your own sake, but for the sake of the person who hates you. They need to see you modeling the healthier choice, even though they’ll initially interpret it as evidence that you’re a coldhearted creep.
No one has the power to rebind a soul that God has released. Refuse to walk around in chains in order to make another human feel better. Unless the Holy Spirit specifically instructs you to do some particular thing, don’t let a grudge holder boss you around with manipulative requests. People who are caught in bitterness often seek to control and wound those who have hurt them. You need to look to the Holy Spirit to give you discernment about how much time you should spend in the company of someone who hates you. Often extra space is a wise choice. Once you become a symbol of pain to the one you’ve hurt, having you out of their face gives them the chance to think clearly about their choices without emotional static.
Be realistic in your expectations. Forgiveness, like salvation, is an individual choice. You cannot force someone to forgive you, nor should you try to. If you are desperate to somehow right your wrong, it is critical that you wait for the Holy Spirit’s instruction before rushing ahead. What might seem like a good idea to you can blow up in your face and have the opposite effect. Only God can see into people’s hearts and you must defer to His higher wisdom. He may refocus your sincere desire to help in an entirely different direction. There is no shortage of hurting people in this world, and many of them are far more receptive to help than the one you’re currently dealing with. Be open to God moving you on to new places and be willing to accept that the person you hurt may never forgive you. But remember that you do not need their forgiveness, no matter how much your emotions crave it. Your guilt over the past is an issue that can be entirely dealt with between you and God. You do not need the help of another human to embrace God’s total acceptance of you, nor can another human block you from obtaining His approval and pleasure. No matter how justified you think someone is in hating you, their opinion of you carries no weight with God. It is only God’s opinion that matters, and His view of you is based on your soul’s response to Him. No, you didn’t deserve the forgiveness you have received. No human does. But such is the mercy of God.
Escaping the Trap of Guilt
How long will God punish me for the past?
When You’ve Destroyed a Life
Understanding Divine Judgment: Illumination, Empowerment & A God Who Delights In Mercy
Identifying False Conviction: Three Easy Tests
Repentant Sinners: Is it wrong to stop feeling bad about the past?