The "Benefits" of Unforgiveness
Why don’t people just forgive? That’s a very good question. If forgiveness is easier and more beneficial, why isn’t it more popular? The sad reality is that there’s short-term, relationally destructive power in refusing to forgive. Holding onto the other's wrongs gives us the upper hand in our relationships. We keep a record of wrongs because we’re not motivated by what honors God and is best for others, but by what’s expedient for ourselves. Here are some of the dark “benefits” of unforgiveness.
1) Debt is power. There’s power in having something to hold over another’s head. There’s power in using a person’s weakness and failure against him or her. In moments when we want our own way, we pull out some wrong against us as our relational trump card.
2) Debt is identity. Holding onto another's sin, weakness, and failure makes us feel superior to them. It allows us to believe that we’re more righteous and mature than they are. We fall into the pattern of getting our sense of self, not by the comfort and call of the Gospel, but by comparing ourselves to another. This pattern plays into the self-righteousness that’s the struggle of every sinner.
3) Debt is entitlement. Because of all the other person's wrongs against us, he or she owes us. Carrying these wrongs makes us feel deserving and therefore comfortable with being self-focused and demanding. “After all I’ve had to endure in relationship with you, don’t I
deserve ... ?”
4) Debt is weaponry. The sins and failures that another's done against us, that we still carry around with us, are like a loaded gun; it’s very tempting to pull them out and use them when we’re angry. When someone's hurt us in some way, it’s very tempting to hurt them back by throwing it in their face just how evil and immature they are.
5) Debt puts us in God’s position. It’s the one place that we must never be; but it’s also a position that we’ve all put ourselves in. We’re not the judge of others. We’re not the one who should dispense consequences for other's sin. It’s not our job to make sure they feel the appropriate amount of guilt for what they’ve done. But it’s very tempting to ascend to God’s throne and to make ourselves judge.
This is nasty stuff. It’s a relational lifestyle driven by ugly selfishness. It’s motivated by what we want, what we think we need, and by what we feel. It’s nothing to do with a desire to please God with the way we live with one another, and it surely has nothing to do with what it means to love others in the midst of their struggle to live God’s way in this broken world. It’s also is scarily blind. We’re so focused on the failures of others that we’re blind to ourselves. We forget how often we fail, how much sin mars everything we do, and how desperately we need the grace that we’re given daily, but unwilling to offer to others. This way of living turns the people in our lives into our adversaries and turns the locations where we live into a war zone.
Yet we’ve all been seduced by the power of unforgiveness. We’ve all used the sin of another against him or her. We’ve all acted as judges. We’ve all thought we’re more righteous than the people around us. We’ve all used the power of guilt to get what we want when we want it and in so doing have not only done serious damage to the fine china of our relationships, but have demonstrated how much we need forgiveness.
It seems almost too obvious to say, but forgiveness is a much better way. The grace of our salvation is the ultimate argument for this truth. Forgiveness is the only way to live in an intimate, long-term relationship with another sinner. Forgiveness is the only way to negotiate through the weakness and failure that will daily mark your relationships. It’s the only way to deal with hurt and disappointment. Forgiveness is the only way to have hope and confidence restored. It’s the only way to protect your love and reinforce the unity that you've built. Forgiveness is the only way to not be kidnapped by the past. It’s the only way to give your relationships the blessing of fresh starts and new beginnings. Grace, forgiving grace, really is a much, much better way. So isn't it wonderful to know that you’ve not only been called to forgive, but you’ve also been graced with everything you need to answer this call.
Paul Tripp is the president of Paul Tripp Ministries, a nonprofit organization whose mission statement is "Connecting the transforming power of Jesus Christ to everyday life." Tripp is also professor of pastoral life and care at Redeemer Seminary in Dallas, Texas, and executive director of the Center for Pastoral Life and Care in Fort Worth, Texas. Tripp has written many books on Christian living that are read and distributed internationally. He has been married for many years to Luella, and they have four grown children. For more information, visit http://www.paultrippministries.org/store.