Why Offering Forgiveness is Terrifying

Grudges are somewhat satisfying.  They are weapons we keep to remind us of our own superiority.  We pull them up at convenient moments and use them like baseball bats to remind others and ourselves that while we may have done a, b, or c, at least we haven’t done x, y, or z.  A good grudge can keep a game of one-upmanship going for years.  But for those of us who would like to let bygones be bygones, or whose conscience reminds us that grudges are not a part of an abundant life in Christ, the nitty gritty of forgiveness is fraught with fears that we are not quite sure how to name.  So let me give it a shot.  Here is a list of fears I have confronted in myself and others in order to somehow be free of that gut clenching, tension headache producing fury that can come suddenly when we are reminded of that louse who betrayed us, the back stabbing friend, the smarmy ex-spouse, and that puling jerk of a relative.


  1. If I forgive, I’m supposed to forget.  And I can’t forget.  I have no idea who made up this rule.  Short of some kind of lobotomy or electroshock therapy, how do you forget?  Forgiveness is not reconciliation; it is letting go of the rage and rights to revenge.  But it is ok to remember. After all, trust is something that is earned, not given.  Some people prove themselves unsafe, and keeping your distance in some cases is just good boundaries.

  2. If I forgive, then they get off scot-free. As far as I can tell, there are a number of rules that govern the universe, the primary one of which is, “That which you sow, so shall you also reap”. God, the universe, and the natural progression of consequences will take care of everyone, including you.  Sow forgiveness, that you might reap the same.  Besides, who appointed you the cosmic hall monitor?  And exactly how are you going to oversee the application of justice?  Smearing their character?  A letter campaign?  I am not advocating turning a blind eye to wickedness.  Prosecute abusers.  Protect the innocent.  Tell the truth.  But leave behind the idea that forgiveness is about them, whoever they are.  Forgiveness is about you and your heart.

  3. If I forgive, it will be like reliving the whole experience. You are reliving it now.  Every time you remember a painful experience, you re-traumatize yourself.  One of the major strategies in fighting PTSD from abuse is practicing forgiveness.  Again, this is not reconciliation or in any way putting yourself at the mercy of anyone who might harm you.  But cultures that practice forgiveness as a value have higher degrees of emotional health.  If you forgive, you will relive the trauma fewer times than if you hold on and mull over the wrongs done to you.

  4. My anger keeps me safe. From what, I ask you?  Being an angry person is stressful.  Just google the effects of stress and my point will be made.  Anger keeps you from forming healthy relationships.  It makes you unpleasant to be around.  Anger isolates, makes you physically ill, and threatens your mental health.  Remind me what is keeping you safe and from what?

  5. I have a right to be angry.   This one is both true and untrue.  Righteous anger is a real thing.  Jesus demonstrated it when he knocked over the money changers’ tables in the temple courts.  Anger is a necessary human emotion, and feelings are not sins.  They are merely life-giving or not.  Anger is an indicator that something is not right.  But anger is not a destination on the map of life.  We go through it to better things on the other side.  So be angry.  Express your truth to whoever needs to hear it.  Just don’t set up permanent camp.  There are still waters and green pastures waiting for you further on.

Peace. Psalm 23

I suppose one of the greatest disappointments I have suffered in life is that everything is a process.  I like to get things off my list.  Forgive him.  Check.  Forgive her.  Check. Now on to the grocery store.  But life doesn’t work like that.  Letting go of hurts that, to be honest, really hurt, takes time.  And forgiveness is a life-long practice that must be repeated.  Like the idea that to be an expert at something takes 10,000 hours, forgiveness requires a lot of drills.  And life will give you lots of practice drills in forgiving, loving, persisting, and death to self.  So maybe if you are embarking on a life of forgiveness, start with the person you are closest to and know the best.  Start by forgiving yourself.



2 Replies to “Why Offering Forgiveness is Terrifying”

  1. But if God commands us in His Holy Word, then He will help us do so

  2. I think for most people forgivness is one of the hardest habits to get into. I don’t like negative feelings, and I still find myself struggling to forgive those around me. I will try to keep in mind what you said about getting off scot free. That is one of my biggest holdups and in the midst of anger I don’t tend to think about how we are taught that you reap what you sow. Be led by the spirit, not your emotions!

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