What Forgiveness Really Is (Part 2 of 2)

This is the second part of a 2-part series on Forgiveness. Click here to read the previous post.


Have you ever wanted to forgive someone and thought to yourself, I don’t really know how to do that.

It’s not like forgiveness is some magic switch you can flip where you simply say, “Okay, that person is forgiven. I have forgiven them.”

Because sometimes we forgive people, but we still feel exactly the same as we did before we forgave them.

So what exactly does it mean to forgive?

First, we have to recognize that forgiveness is personal.

What I mean is that you have to name the person who needs to be forgiven. Lots of people say that they were hurt by an institution—a church, a company, an organization—but that’s not really the way it works.

An organization didn’t hurt you; a person did. They may have done it with the weight of the organization or the institution, but it was that person, and it is that person who needs to be forgiven.

So to forgive is to name the person who hurt you and what exactly they did to you.

Whenever someone says, “They hurt me,” or “That group excluded me,” the first question should be, “What was the person’s name?”

Second, forgiveness is a process.

Not long ago, I was working through my ability to forgive a person, and I felt like I had made some real progress. However, that person reappeared in my world and reminded me of how angry I had been with them.

Sometimes we have to forgive the same person over and over again before it really sticks. For some of us, this may need to become a daily routine.

Sometimes forgiveness is the need to unlearn our attitudes of cynicism and bitterness. That can’t be done in a day. It takes time.

Third, forgiveness means giving up the need for revenge.

I wrote about this in a post last week. We have an internal sense of how justice works, and when someone wrongs us, we want them to suffer for it. If we can’t punish them, we want God to do it for us.

Revenge doesn’t make things better. It only escalates the problem. This is why Jesus calls us to forgive our enemies; it’s the only way to get ourselves out of the cycle of violence and destruction.

Finally, forgiveness is the ability to wish the other person well.

This might take years, but it’s where we are try to go. We are trying to become the kinds of people who naturally want the best for other people, even the people who have scarred us.

This is not easy, and it’s not fast. Like I said, it’s a process.

Don’t feel guilty if you struggle with this. We all struggle with it. This is what it means to be human—to struggle with the things that will make us better and will ultimately make the world better.


Can you think of any other things that forgiveness is? Are there methods you have learned that make it easier to forgive people?


For more on this subject, you can visit the previous posts on this blog:

-When Good Things Happen to Bad People

-Why We Shouldn’t Draw Lines

-Timothy Keller on Forgiveness