Sooner or later we all encounter an experience of hurt or loss from someone whom we have trusted. It may happen in a small way as in when we don’t receive the recognition that we think we deserve or it may involve rejection or betrayal from someone who is close to us. It may even involve insult or physical assault/damage of what kind or another. It is especially hurtful when the relationship is close and a lot has been invested over a long period of time. It may happen in a work relationship, in a friendship, in the fellowship of the church, or even in a family or marriage relationship. Because we are sinful beings inclined to be self-centered, but also social creatures who long for relationship, it is inevitable that sooner or later we will feel offended. And sometimes the offense is very, very serious and costly.
What we do with that offense is critical to our emotional and spiritual well-being. No doubt such offenses cause us to cycle through the stages of grief identified by Kubler-Ross back in 1969 in her book, On Death and Dying – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Sometimes though, in the case of personal offenses, we may never get to the stage of acceptance simply because the loss is so far-reaching and painful. Instead we may choose to deal with it by ignoring the person or situation and seeking to withdraw from it. Distance may help us to process the experience more objectively but it can also serve to affect our personal development unless we choose to deal with it. As John Bevere points out in his book, The Bait of Satan, unforgiven offenses are like the “root of bitterness” spoken of in Hebrews 12:15 that Satan can use in our hearts to sabotage every good thing that God wants to do in our lives.
In order to move past these inevitable offenses we need to come to terms with the significance of forgiveness. We will soon discover that forgiveness is not a natural or normal response to personal offense. Usually our first response is to seek compensation. After all, someone has been perceived as taking advantage of us – literally stealing something valuable from us such as our sense of dignity or self-worth — and maybe a whole lot more in terms of material value. And sometimes it’s legitimate to ask for what rightfully belongs to you.
But, in general, God’s prescription on how to deal with offenses is to forgive and actually bless those who offend us (Matthew 5:38-48, 7:14, 15). It takes a lot of grace to do that! But thankfully, that grace has been extended to us from God for our offenses toward Him. In the death of Jesus Christ for our sins, we see the key to forgiveness. God loved us so much that He took the hurt and loss for our sin by having His own Son die for us. And it is by that grace that we now have the capacity to extend that same forgiveness to those who offend us.
Though it hasn’t always been easy, by God’s help, I am learning to turn offenses over to God. First of all I try to realize how much God has forgiven me in my offenses toward Him and then by turning the thing over to him I trust him for his compensation of my loss caused by another. In my heart, I think and speak forgiveness toward that person and then blessing through prayer. I find I don’t have to wait for another person to acknowledge their offense before I can extend forgiveness to them.
But for reconciliation to happen I know the other person has to be willing to acknowledge the hurt he or she has caused. And for that to be achieved, I may have to speak about it to them as Jesus speaks about it in Matthew 5:23. But if the offender is not responsive, I can still be free of the offense by forgiving that person in my heart even though it may take awhile sometimes to come to terms with the seriousness of what the other person has done.
It’s also good to remember that just as others offend us we are often easily responsible for offending others. Probably it’s better to be thinking about how often we offend others than how frequently others offend us. When we become aware of the fact that we have offended someone we should be quick to acknowledge it to God and to the other person.
In all of this, there is no freedom like the freedom of a free conscience. And though confession and forgiveness are difficult to address sometimes, God never calls us to do something that He doesn’t also give us the grace to do. Praise be to God for the assurance of forgiveness! See Psalm 32.