Why is it so hard for people to forgive?

Posted: July 2, 2018 in Uncategorized

It goes against the grain of our hearts. We are all, truth be told, selfish creatures. We want unconditional love, but are often unwilling to give it; we don’t like to be gossiped about, but we will talk behind the backs of our closest friends; when we are feeling bad, we hate to see happy people; we want to be forgiven, but we don’t always want to forgive. We are often “dogs in the manger.” Dogs don’t eat hay, like hay, want hay, or need hay, but dogs in the manger don’t want the animals who do need it to have access to it.

I believe in “natural law”, it is just virtually impossible to live by it because of the brokenness of Man. One of the aspects of natural law is a sense of justice. Most all cultures recognize that certain acts are wrong: theft, cheating, adultery, fraud, assault. When someone violates these against us, we want justice. If we are robbed, we want our money back. Some cultures practiced a kind of slavery for cases where a thief could not pay back what he stole, working the debt off.

But we are, generally, also inclined toward mercy. If a man steals to feed his family, we consider that a “mitigating factor”; dire situations may call for desperate actions. We have all heard stories of businesses or people that were robbed, only to hear from the thief years later explaining a desperate situation and money with interest included. These are somehow ennobling to the human spirit. Even the Bible says,

“Keep falsehood and lies far from me;

give me neither poverty nor riches,

but give me only my daily bread.

Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you

and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’

Or I may become poor and steal,

and so dishonor the name of my God.” Proverbs 30:8–9

The problem comes when the offense is so egregious to the offended that forgiveness seems impossible. As Steven Griffin says, we are afraid that forgiveness somehow lets the offender off the hook.

Let’s be honest: We LIKE having something to hang over the heads of our offenders. It’s comforting. It often provides an excuse for our own failures, our own bitterness. It galls us to see someone who hurt us prosper. We become like the subject of the poem by Stephen Crane, In the Desert:

“In the desert

I saw a creature, naked, bestial,

Who, squatting upon the ground,

Held his heart in his hands,

And ate of it.

I said, ‘Is it good, friend?’

‘It is bitter—bitter,’ he answered;

‘But I like it

‘Because it is bitter,

‘And because it is my heart.’”

In the Desert by Stephen Crane

We have all met these people. Some of them are us. We were hurt…badly, abused, neglected, unloved, and we suffered; oh God, how we suffered! Our innate sense of justice demands that those who hurt us suffer also. The problem is, when is enough, enough? Who determines when the punishment stops? Will we carry the weight of our bitterness to our grave? Hebrews 12 says: “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” That “everyone”? It means EVERYONE, and one way we make peace is by forgiving. How can we be at peace until and unless we forgive? The consequences of NOT forgiving exacerbate the problem, it does not temper it, for the seed of bitterness that is unforgiveness, once planted, grows and spreads like a weed, like kudzu, taking over whole landscapes and choking out nourishment, light, and life from those around the abused, not just themselves. We carry our bitterness around like an old, moldy, smelly doll or blanket we should have tossed away long ago. “I LIKE it, because it is bitter, and because it is MY heart.” Unforgiveness is ultimately selfishness. “It’s MINE, and you can’t take it away from me. Someone once said, “Hate is a dirty fuel; but it burns hot and it burns long.” Some people are so consumed by their hate, unforgiveness, and bitterness, that I am convinced that they believe that if they forgive, they will really die.

Imagine a girl abused by a neighbor as a child. She tells no one, but the fear, shame, guilt, and rage all sit and wait in her heart. They grow, spread, and flourish. She has a hard time with relationships, chooses terrible boyfriends, gets involved in a lifestyle of drugs, alcohol, and promiscuity. Her parents and friends are devastated. She marries, has children, but her hatred remains, never abating, always present. She loses her husband, becomes estranged from her children. Indeed, the bitter root has grown and defiled everyone she comes in contact with. Finally, decades later, she decides to confront the cause of her life’s pain; she will make him pay for what he did. So she buys a gun, tracks him down, and goes to his house. She knocks on the door, heart pounding, hands sweating. A woman opens the door. “Can I help you?”

“Yes. I’m looking for______. Is he home?”

“Oh, dear. You must not have heard: Bob died…oh, 20 years ago now. Went out into the woods back there and shot himself in the head. It was a terrible shock to us all.”

What a waste, the hatred of ghosts. And we are all ghosts when you think about it.

Some people say forgiveness is weakness; it does no good. I submit the opposite. UN-forgiveness is worthless. It does no good whatsoever. It’s like acid or lava, burning and eating away everything in its path.

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