Understanding the Cost of Forgiveness

Understanding the Cost of Forgiveness

Why do you think forgiveness can be so hard? This month we're talking about forgiveness, and today we're talking about understanding the cost of forgiveness.

It’s hard because we've got so much built-up hurt that's happened over the years. And I'll be honest, I've let that happen. I've let the resentment from all the hurt build up, and it's really hard to break through.

We know that forgiveness is foundational to Christianity, but if we're honest, we all struggle with it a lot. Sometimes our perspective is that forgiveness is frankly too hard. We get stuck on the feeling that it isn't fair, and it feels like we're letting the other person off the hook when we forgive. How can we change our perspective about forgiveness so that we're more willing to embrace it?

Forgiveness sounds good on paper, and it's a command in the Bible, but in reality it can be really hard. Today we're going to talk about three different aspects of the cost of forgiveness. Number one, what forgiveness costs us. Number two, how to change our perspective on forgiveness. Then finally, number three, what is the biblical perspective on forgiveness?

How would you define the cost of forgiveness?

The cost of forgiveness is big. At least it feels like it. When I need to let go of some hurt or something someone's done to me it costs me my sense of justice. I want to be sure that justice is served. And if I forgive, I might be thinking, I can't let go. There's a wrong that needs to be corrected. My hurt has to be noticed. And so, it costs us that sense of fairness.

But if God promises to forgive me then His redemption is also important for others too. Even those who have done things to harm us. And so, forgiveness is possible for people who have hurt us deeply, even when it seems like, is that really fair? But was God's justice to me fair? Was his forgiveness fair for me? We didn't deserve it either.

A lot of times the cost of forgiveness feels like it's forgetting or ignoring our desire for justice. We're going to roll over and take it. I don't want to do that when I've been hurt and or even worse than hurting me, hurting my kids. When something happens to hurt my kids, it is so hard for me to give it up and allow God to have justice because I want to do it.  There’s a sense of control there too. We want to be able to control the outcome of that justice. We want to be the ones to give them everything they deserve. So, it cost us our control too.

It feels like giving up our own power to make someone pay. One of the things that helps me to let go is remembering that God is a God of justice. Proverbs 17:15 says, “Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent, the Lord detests them both.” God cares deeply about justice. Even though it means I have to let go of control and power over a situation or a person by forgiving, I can trust that He's got it under control and under His power.

One of the things I went through with my ex, and it's not just that there is the justice element, but also the power. I'm not going to confirm nor deny that these are true, but if I had a sense that she committed adultery, she was a drug addict, she was abusive, and she's got disorders. Those are chips that I have to justify my sense of not just the divorce, but to make myself feel better I don't want to release and forgive because I can hold that against her. It’s like a trump card. I hate that about myself, but if I'm honest, I have used that. I have not gone to a place of forgiveness so that I could continue to use things against my ex.

I may have done this “fill in the blank” but it wasn't as bad as all the things my ex has done. And just hanging onto that does feel like a sense of power or control. And instead God asks us to die to ourselves. And to die to that type of vengeance and to trust Him with justice.

Clearly that that's what is commanded but that's a very difficult and a huge cost to bear.  It feels overwhelming and frankly completely uncomfortable and completely undesirable. There's a huge cost to it. Forgiveness is really about dying to yourself and your own self-reliance.

We've talked about what it costs to forgive, let's move into the second point, which is other factors that may be clouding our perspective on forgiveness. I don't know that it's all about releasing control. There are other factors that keep us stuck.

What are some other factors that get in the way of a healthy perspective on forgiveness?

There are even bigger costs to unforgiveness. And just thinking about how it allows the root of bitterness to grow in your heart it can cause us to walk in darkness and will blind us to ourselves. I am the first person to focus on other people's failures. I'm the first person to look at my ex and say, “Well, if he would just do this, this, and this, things would be better.” And I did it when we were married. There are times that I still do it now and with myself.

Focusing on the failures of others doesn't give me the ability to die to myself and come at it from a place of humility. While there are ways that this person has hurt me, and I can give you 700 ways my ex has hurt me. What are all the ways that I've hurt him?  Unforgiveness will blind our own dysfunctions and it'll forget that we're also imperfect and in need of grace. I am so guilty of minimizing what I've done and magnifying what someone else has done. It'll rob us of our humility and our humanity.

The cost of unforgiveness is more motivating to me in some respects. If I don't move towards forgiveness I'm blinding myself to my own sense of healing. And it stunts my ability to do my own work. And that's a motivator.

The secular version of forgiveness, when it's just seeking to release someone gives us the freedom to move into our own healing, but there's a big difference between secular forgiveness and biblical forgiveness. I do think that there's benefits to both, but the motive behind secular forgiveness is to self-heal and self-power, which is real. There is a level of healing that comes. So, a secular version looks more like you're forgiving for your own peace of mind or to make yourself happy. It's self-oriented.

The biblical definition of forgiveness is motivated by first honoring God to forgive because He has forgiven us. And the secondary motive is to bring about change for the common good. God-centered forgiveness is more important, and there are greater benefits that come from it. So, if we're just motivated by trying to get freedom, we're missing a piece of the puzzle that is really important to address.

For a long time, I had been caught up in the secular version of forgiveness. Later in life as I start realizing the significance as I got closer to God.  I realize that this is not just some religion, something that a pastor says, but this is the Creator of the universe, and I'm a speck of dust that He loves so much. My motivation has changed to move towards more of a biblical version of forgiveness. I know it's for my own good.

What does the Bible say about forgiveness?

Biblical forgiveness is not logical. It doesn't make sense. Why would we let someone off the hook if they've done something wrong to us? From our human perspective, on the horizontal plane, that doesn't make sense, but God's ways are higher than ours. The ability to be human and to accept our own flaws and faults and to love well through the act of forgiveness and how God offers us those things first. So, from that, that overflow, we can offer that to someone else. But it is counterintuitive. It’s normal to struggle with it. Both giving forgiveness and also receiving it. Even feeling worthy of it ourselves can be difficult.

I'm reading a book right now called Bold Love by Dan Allender. The central theme of forgiveness is love. It’s operating out of a sense of love. Allender talks about how we don't even have to truly love in the ways that God intended because we're fallen and broken. If it's coming from a place of love, then I'm acting out of the way God intended. So even being able to operate from a central place of love is going to automatically put us leaps and bounds ahead of where we need to be versus the secular process.  

The biblical perspective is focused on relationship and for the common good, not just for ourselves. We don't need to let go of our desire for the wrongdoer to repent and to be sorry for what they've done. That’s not something we can manage or control. That's up to them. But in an act of love, we can surrender vengeance and offer forgiveness, still knowing that it's up to God. We're not going to seek payback, which is not our job.

If we always remember that so much of what's happening when someone hurts us is more about them than it says about us. If we can remember that I'm not trying to diminish the hurt but deal with the hurt, but also be able to look at what someone else is doing with love, compassion, and empathy because they are acting out of their own wounding and hurts. So, if you can remember that, as hard as it is for you to deal with your own stuff, having compassion for someone as they're walking through their stuff, even if it is hurtful to you, is a good step to start with.

It’s really important to say here the biblical version of forgiveness does not mean brushing something under the rug. A desire for justice is not the wrong thing. But the biblical view is allowing God to be the justice keeper, the one that steps in. We do need to have boundaries. Boundaries and forgiveness can exist in the same place.

Just because you're moving towards forgiveness does not mean that you have no boundaries and you just roll over and let whatever happen. It’s really important for us to maintain safety for ourselves and for our kids.

Boundaries help us forgive. Boundaries help us maintain our sense of worth and value, and I matter too, but they don't elevate us above someone else. They still help us maintain a sense of protection and safety while we forgive. Boundaries are a crucial element of being able to forgive because they say my safety and my children's safety still matter. I can let go of the hurt you've done while creating a protective wall around what I need for me and for my kids. That's such an important distinction.

My willingness to forgive plays so much in my ability to forgive. I know that on my own I don’t have the ability to forgive. It's God who ultimately changes my heart. When I'm coming to Him close-fisted and not giving Him the ability to work with a heart that's open and willing to forgive, He will soften and change my heart. The first step towards biblical forgiveness is going to God with our unforgiveness because we can't do it on our own. And so how can we at least come with what we have, which is just the openness and willingness to let God work and do what only He can do?

The key word is willingness. You call it open-handed. It’s basically a release of power. Your prayer to God would be honest and vulnerable, you might even say you hate this person, that you want to ask God to smite him, burn down the wrath on him or her. That's my feeling but God, You're almighty, I am willing to consider there's a better path but You're going to have to help me get there. The idea of willingness and I'm willing to consider is a really important step.

We may never know, we may never see what's going on with the other person. We never may see the redemption on their side of things and be able to have that peace. If we're honest, we usually don't see that.  Even being able to release that and say, all right, I just give it all over to you, God, all of it from beginning to end.

We need to be able to let go, but it's so hard to do, and trust God with the outcome. And one thing that helps me do that is a deep awareness of God's love for me. That He sees the hurt, He sees the pain. He knows the end from the beginning. If I'm able to let go better when I think God's got this, He's got me and He loves me.


The cost of forgiveness is very high. It is about dying to our own sense of justice and our power to our self sense of justice and power.

We may have a negative view of forgiveness because we're following a secular view of forgiveness. And forgetting that there's also a huge cost to unforgiveness.

The biblical perspective of forgiveness is about honoring God and giving up our right to payback the wrongdoer. And trusting that God's got us, He's got the situation and ultimately justice is His.

Listener Question

I'm Gretchen, a single mom. Do you ever have a time where you pretended to be married while a single parent? Why did you do it?

I've never actually pretended I was married, although I wanted to. I still have my wedding ring for no other reason other than I don't really know what to do with it. There have been times when I've considered wearing it when I'm going out with girlfriends, and I don't want to be bothered.

It's more coon for women to pretend they're married because they just don't feel like they're safe. It’s an unfortunate reality. Marissa has told a story about when she had a plumber over at her house who she got creepy vibes from and was mansplaining things to her, she pretended like she was married so that he would talk to her like she was a normal human being.

There have been times when I've gone to get my car fixed when I've hinted at having a man in my life who I could rely on to know if it was a good quote or not. I can see being strategic about it.

For men, this is interesting. I have found I have more conversations when women see my wedding ring than when I wasn’t wearing it. They're more reticent to talk to you if you're available. It's safer if you’re married.


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