How do we forgive people who have hurt us?
The Bible tells us that we need to forgive anyone who has done something wrong to us and love our enemies, anyone who wishes to harm us. It also tells us that forgiveness and love go hand-in-hand. But sometimes this is really difficult.
Loving Everyone is a Command
In the Old Testament we read, "And forgive thy people that have sinned against thee, and all their transgressions wherein they have transgressed against thee, and give them compassion…" (1 Kings 8:50). In the New Testament, Jesus tells us, "Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you" (Luke 6:27-28).
So no matter what our situation is or how badly someone has treated us, we're supposed to love and forgive everyone. Since Jesus forgave those who crucified him, and since God sees everyone as His beloved child, then we should be able to forgive just as easily. Right?
While I think of myself as a forgiving person, I am still challenged when someone lies to me, cheats on me, or hurts me. When I find it difficult to love my enemies or even friends who have hurt me, I can look to the Bible for examples and encouragement.
Jacob and Esau Learn Forgiveness
In Genesis, we read about a very interesting set of twins -- Jacob and Esau. After Jacob tricks his father Isaac into giving him Esau's birthright inheritance, Esau's first reaction is anger and hatred directed at Jacob. In order to keep him safe, Jacob's mother has him run away from home.
After many years living away from home, Jacob realizes that he needs to return home and goes to meet Esau. As he approaches his old home, Jacob hears that his brother is coming to meet him with 400 hundred men (Gen 32:6). Jacob becomes really scared and prays with all his heart. He sees "God face to face" and feels the assurance that God will protect him (Gen 32:30). When Jacob and Esau finally meet, Esau forgives him and loves him. To me, this story demonstrates the power of forgiveness and love.
God Always Helps Us
I found the story of Jacob and Esau helpful when a relationship I was in ended, and I was left with a broken heart. At first, I didn't know what to do. I was really upset about it, and I didn't know how or when I was going to get back on my feet. I learned that to get over a broken heart, you need courage, strength, and persistence. Jacob had to have courage to face his brother again. God led them both so there wasn't any conflict, and it all worked out in the end. And it did for me, too.
I realized that no matter how hard a situation is, God will be there to help me -- to help all of us -- get through it. The Bible offers encouragement to those that are struggling: "Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee withersoever thou goest" (Josh 1:9). It's not easy finding courage, but it's a lot easier knowing that God is always with us.
Joseph is a Role Model for Forgiveness
The biggest demonstration I see of forgiveness and love in the Old Testament is the story of Joseph and his brothers. Joseph's brothers become jealous and try to kill him when their father gives him a special coat and shows favoritism to Joseph. But they end up selling him into slavery and telling their father that he has been killed. At this point, it might seem like Joseph has every right to hate his brothers and give up on life because he hadn't done anything to deserve this kind of treatment. But Joseph doesn't hold onto any resentment. He keeps on loving, keeps on forgiving.
Even though Joseph ends up a slave in Egypt, he stays faithful to God and ends up doing well. But Potiphar's wife tricks him, and Joseph lands in jail. When the Pharaoh has a dream, no one except Joseph is able to interpret it. The dream tells of a famine that is coming soon. The Pharaoh rewards Joseph by freeing him and putting him in charge of preparing for the famine. When the famine comes, his brothers come to Egypt to buy food. Joseph chooses to forgive his brothers and gladly gives them food. He is overjoyed to see them, which shows just how much he loves them.
Joseph had so much love for everyone -- himself, God, his family, the Egyptians. He wasn't selfish at all. Joseph is my favorite Bible role model because he shows how much one can forgive. Even if people do horrible things, we can still forgive them because God is with them and with us.
Forgiveness Blesses Us
Forgiveness and love go hand-in-hand and are very important. Even though loving friends or others who hurt us can be really hard, we know that "with God nothing shall be impossible" (Luke 1:37). Holding a grudge against someone keeps us tied to awful feelings, but forgiving someone releases us. When we forgive, things go much smoother, we're happier, we become stronger, and we find ourselves blessed.