Who Do You Need to Forgive?

Who Do You Need to Forgive?

By Alice Clarke

Steve Long, Senior Leader of Catch The Fire in Toronto, was teaching on forgiveness in a class in the School of Ministry in Toronto. A student put up her hand and asked, “What do I do if I can’t think of someone to forgive?” Steve replied, “Can you think of one person from your past?”

“Yes,” she said.

“Do you need to forgive that person?”

“Yes!” came her reply.

How did she all of a sudden find someone to forgive after not finding anyone? As he asked the question, Steve had asked the Holy Spirit to reveal to her someone that she needed to forgive, and the Holy Spirit had shown her.

Forgiveness is important. Jesus told us in the Lord’s Prayer that it’s something we should be practicing every day. But sometimes it might be hard to figure out who exactly you need to forgive.

In our recent post How To Forgive Someone Right Now, we talked about WHY and HOW to forgive. In this post, we’ll look at WHO. There are three categories: Others, Yourself, and God.

Forgive Other People

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This is probably the most obvious one. We’ve all been hurt by someone else. Rejection, abandonment, cruelty, jealousy, bullying, hate: there are opportunities all the time to be hurt by those that you know and love and by people that you’ve never even met before. Opportunities to be hurt are opportunities to forgive, or not to forgive. There’s always a choice.

Choosing forgiveness toward someone else isn't about immediately trusting that person after they’ve hurt you, but it’s about setting yourself free from the chains of judgement and unforgiveness that keep you held down. Marianne Williamson said, “Unforgiveness is like drinking poison yourself and waiting for the other person to die.” You might think that choosing not to forgive someone else will hurt them, but it actually hurts you more. It keeps you locked in your own pain and bitterness. Jesus said,  “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:15, NIV)

Forgive Yourself

Jesus said the most important thing to do is to love God and love others as you love yourself (Matthew 22:36-40). So if you decide to forgive other people (a good idea), you’ve also got to forgive yourself (also a very good idea). We trap ourselves in shame and regret over things we have or haven't done. If you don’t forgive yourself it’s the same principle as not forgiving others: unforgiveness can’t change the past. It can’t change what you or another person did or fix the pain your heart is in. The only way to move forward is to move out of the place of judging yourself and into grace and forgiveness, just like Jesus forgave you of your sins at the cross, once and for all.

Have you ever found yourself rehearsing a conversation from years past, thinking of a better way to say something so that you wouldn’t have been embarrassed? That’s a classic telltale sign that you need to forgive yourself. Jesus forgave you of ALL your sins, so you can forgive yourself too.

Forgive God

This is a bit of a strange one for lots of people. Of course, God is holy and pure and perfect, and he can’t do anything wrong (Deuteronomy 32:4). So surely we don’t need to forgive him for anything that goes wrong in our own lives?

As we’ve seen, forgiveness is actually much more about your own response than another person’s actions. So when we have unforgiveness toward God, it’s not because He needs to be forgiven of something. It’s not because He’s at fault, but rather it’s because of our perception of what happened. For our own freedom, we need to forgive Him.

Do you go around with a blame radar, wondering, if something goes wrong, why did it happen? Whose fault was it? Especially in situations we don’t understand, like unexpected redundancy, a cancer diagnosis, or a miscarriage, our hearts can quickly blame God without us even noticing it. Similarly, where we’ve felt God said something and it didn’t happen, our first instinct is often to blame him. David cried, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?” (Psalm 22:1 NIV). In the same way, we think that God has given up on us, and it hurts.

God isn’t afraid of our pain or surprised that you might be angry toward him. The Bible is full of people raging at God with the full scale of their emotions and God being ok with it (check out the Psalms for example). When we speak out forgiveness to God, it allows him to heal our hearts from the pain we’ve been carrying.

Go for It

Just like Steve asked the School of Ministry student to think of a person from their past, ask God to remind you of a person or situation today. Let him reveal to you who you need to forgive and why.

Think about these questions:

Who hurt you at that moment?

Do you have regrets from what happened?

Do you wish you’d done something differently?
Do you wish that God had stepped in and done something about it?

Let God into every emotion you felt at that time, and speak out forgiveness. Simply pray, “God, I choose to forgive [them, me, or God] for [what happened, how you felt, how it’s affected your life since].”

For more on forgiveness, check out this blog post: How To Forgive Someone Right Now.