Forgiveness is often easier said than done, even for believers. In fact, a new study found that 1 in 4 Christians struggle to forgive, and can identify a specific person they can’t forgive. We know we should forgive, but sometimes it seems impossible to let go of our hurt.

God’s perspective on unforgiveness is unmistakable. Gil Mertz reminds us that Jesus addresses this exact scenario in Matthew 18.

“We call it the parable of the unforgiving servant. It’s the story of the man who owed an insurmountable amount to the king, and the king forgave him. Then he jumps on a friend who owed him the equivalent of $5.00; he won’t forgive him. The Bible says the king was so furious that he threw this guy into prison.”

“It’s one of the most solemn passages of Scripture in the entire Bible Jesus says: “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart. (Matthew 18:35)”

This shows the seriousness of harboring unforgiveness toward someone who’s wronged us. Far from achieving justice for the sin committed against us, Mertz says refusing to forgive instead creates a trap.

“We create our own prison, with bars made of hate, bitterness, resentment, grudges, jealousy, and ugliness. We can spend our whole life behind those bars…and God is not in any hurry to rescue us from that prison. People say, ‘Oh I wish I could forgive, if God would just take away my bitterness.’  Well, I could lose weight if God would take away my desire for donuts. First, I have to surrender my bitterness to God.”

“Here’s the great irony: if we’re sitting in these prisons we’ve created for ourselves, the whole time we’re holding the key right in our own hand. The key is forgiveness. You can set yourself free. And once you’re free, there’s nothing you can’t do!”

It’s not a surprise that we find forgiveness difficult – it goes against our humanity. To react in compassion instead of retaliation requires a supernatural motivation.

“Forgiveness goes against every fiber of our flesh. If you hit me, I will react so quickly that I won’t even think of it as a choice. I’ll yell out in pain and want to hit you back or pull away; that is just so instinctive to our nature.”

“Forgiveness is not instinctive, and it’s against our nature. Forgiveness is a heavenly nature. Alexander Pope was right when he said ‘To err is human; to forgive is divine.'”

When you’ve been deeply hurt, instead of harboring your pain, Mertz invites you to reveal your pain to your Heavenly Father, who wants to heal you.

“There is no one who loves you more, no one who knows you better, and no one who can make more sense out of your chaos, than God. Sadly, many people run from God when they go through a crisis or a heartache. Don’t run from God. Run to God and show Him where it hurts, because He loves you.”

As difficult as it may seem to forgive your enemy, it’s precisely what God does for each of us. When we were sinners, enemies of God, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). When we are born again in Christ, we experience such great mercy, such undeserved grace from our perfect Father, that we are given eternal life! He has removed our sins and washed us perfectly clean (Psalm 103:11-12). Since we have received forgiveness, Christ calls us likewise to forgive.

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32

God sees all things. He guarantees both perfect justice and unfailing mercy. Think now of that person you are struggling to forgive and bring it all before the Lord: trust Him with your heart and your hurt. Believe that He will make things right, and you don’t have to carry the weight of those sins anymore. Once you release the pain of the past, you can walk forward into the freedom and joy forgiveness brings.

Gil Mertz is assistant to the president at the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C. He has been involved with full-time Christian service for nearly 40years and draws from a vast background of ministry with international missions, humanitarian causes, public policy, and consulting. He is a former pastor and radio talk show host. His daily commentaries on forgiveness have been broadcast on more than 300 stations across America. He’s the author of Forgive Your Way to Freedom.

When you just can't forgive - Gil Mertz