When someone hurts us and their actions forever affect our lives, the instinctive response is to choose anger and seek vengeance. We look for ways to punish the offender because we want him or her to understand the deep pain we feel and to suffer in the same way. The Apostle Paul’s instruction to forgive is easier said than done.
At first, we may find comfort in bitterness, but after a time we become slaves to it. Every aspect of our lives slowly slips into the dark abyss of unforgiveness–relationships, careers, health, character and, most tragically, our walk with Christ. Here, Satan renders us powerless and keeps us from experiencing the peace and healing that comes through Jesus Christ’s unfailing love. Yet when we choose to forgive and trust Jesus as victor over our circumstances, the chains are broken, freeing us to live out all that Christ intends for us.
Eight years ago I survived the massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. I was in the library where most of the violence was wreaked that day. For seven minutes I listened to two boys gun down my friends and classmates. For seven minutes I waited to die and silently prayed to recommit my life to Jesus.
In seven minutes my life changed forever.
I was left wishing I had died so I wouldn’t have to face the overwhelming suffering and deal with the barrage of emotions I felt. Forgiving the boys seemed inconceivable. I believed that offering forgiveness would not only be condoning their actions but would somehow dishonor the lives that were lost.
Yet, as I continued to press into Jesus, my Hope-Giver, and began to experience His unfailing love and gain a deeper understanding of His unmerited grace, a slow transformation began. Suddenly, the truth of the Gospel was illuminated in a fresh way to my weary heart. For the first time, I recognized that not only was I saved, but forgiven! That statement may seem simple and obvious, so allow me to explain.
I am a mess apart from Christ. I am a wretched sinner who constantly fails and misses the mark. But Romans 5:8 tells me, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (NIV). Despite my sin, He loved me enough to forgive me and wash that sin away.
I deserve death and punishment. Sin is sin, and if hatred is present in my heart, I am no different from a cold-blooded killer. I need forgiveness as much as anyone else does. Forgiveness was freely given to me, not because I deserve it, but because of the unbiased love and grace of Jesus and what He accomplished on the cross by His blood.
If I am striving to walk with Jesus and be more and more like Him every day, then it is imperative that I forgive others as He has forgiven me (Ephesians 4:32). It’s not an option but a mandate.
Over time, I found it easier to forgive those boys. I can’t say it happened immediately or without pain, but I believe that if they were still alive today, I could look them in the eyes and, through God’s strength, say, “I forgive you.”