“I can’t forgive him for what he did!” Wendy said these words very emphatically. She was at a live-in conference on counselling. She was a pastor to women at a large city church. During the conference it was expected that all participants would be willing to be counselled as part of their learning experience. It turned out that I had been chosen to be the leader of the three people (one man and two women) to hear her story and to pray with her.
She shared much of her life with us. Perhaps the most traumatic incident in her life occurred when she was eighteen years of age. She had been on a tourist coach tour which stopped overnight at several towns. One night the Tour Director came uninvited into her room and tried to sexually molest her. Her screams brought other people in the hotel rushing to her door. By that time the man had gone but her clothing was in disarray, she was almost hysterical, and extremely embarrassed.
One result of that incident was that she didn’t trust men and especially men in authority. Perhaps for that reason she had never been able to enter into a relationship with a man. At the time of the conference she was in her late 30’s. It helped explain why she was not really at ease when the counselling began with me as the lead counsellor. However after she shared what had happened to her as a teenager we began to work through the process of forgiveness. It was obvious that she needed to move on for her own health sake. We knew that if she was willing to forgive the man, she could become more free as a result. (The man had never asked for her forgiveness). Forgiveness is never ever about condoning sin. Rather it was recognising that the man had harmed her and she needed to deal with the resultant effects. This was not a time for us to be extending sympathy to her. She’d had plenty of that in the past. Rather we sought to bring her healing.
When we suggested that it would help her to forgive the man for HER sake, she became quite angry. “I can’t forgive him for what he did!” she cried out. We tried to be gentle in what followed. Eventually it seemed right to ask her, “Why don’t you want to forgive him?” I think we were all a little bit startled when she retorted, “Well I don’t know if he has suffered enough yet for what he did!” It took some time before I could reply. I knew she had a very wonderful ministry and wanted to be in the centre of God’s will. I asked, “Wendy, when you came to the Lord asking God to forgive you, did He say, ‘No you haven’t suffered enough yet?’” After a short pause she answered, “No, He forgave me immediately!” We kept praying silently. Then she said, “I know I need to forgive that fellow but I never wanted to. It has been affecting me and my ministry. But now I’m ready to forgive him.” In our presence she verbalised her forgiveness towards the man. What a difference it made to Wendy. She left the conference a different woman. Within two years she fell in love and was married.
Forgiveness involves forgiving everyone who may have hurt us. It means forgiving everything they ever said or did that brought us harm. Forgiving sets US free as we will see in future articles. Wendy discovered this truth in a wonderful way.
“Who forgives all your iniquity.” Psalm 103:3. What sort of person would be willing to forgive ALL our iniquity?” The Lord Himself. The word for “forgives” is “salach” which we saw in my post No.7, also means to “pardon” or to “spare”. It is always used of God as the One Who forgives. The word for “iniquity” is “avon” which denotes deliberate evil or conscious rebellion, a deeper form of sin. It is not normally in the nature of humans to forgive or to pardon those who deliberately rebel against us. We by nature want to hit back or to seek revenge. But it is in the nature of God to offer forgiveness and pardon to those who rebel against Him. Why does He do it? Because it is His character to love and to forgive!
David wrote of that later in the Psalm in verses 8 to 12. He wrote in verse 8, The LORD is merciful (rachum). This word is only used of God. It refers to His compassion and to the mercy He extends to those who don’t deserve it. He is gracious. (channun). This is another word used only of God and also used often with the previous word rachum. One example is in 2 Chronicles 30:9 where His graciousness is seen in His promise not to turn His face away from those who turn to Him, … For the LORD your God is gracious (channun) and merciful (rachum) and will not turn away his face from you, if you return to him.”
He is slow to anger, Psalm 103:8. This phrase contains 2 Hebrew words which are used together at least 13 times in the Bible to describe the Lord’s patience or His longsuffering. He abounds in steadfast love. Here the word is (chesed) which is used more than 250 times in the Bible to refer to God’s faithfulness, kindness and His covenant love. It occurs 26 times in Psalm 136 and portrays God’s faithfulness, love and protection from creation to eternity, especially in His dealings with His people.
David wanted people to understand how great is that steadfast love (chesed). He describes it in verse 12, as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him. In other words humans do not have the capacity to understand how great is God’s love for His people. It is beyond measure.
What effect does that (chesed) love have in God’s forgiveness of those who love Him? He tells us in verse 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. That is a very long way. When God forgives us He removes those sins totally from us. He no longer sees the sinner as guilty of those sins. They are taken away to infinity and are no longer attributed to the penitent sinner.
These words have brought immense freedom to those who felt that they were full of guilt and who wondered if they could ever be free of it. The good news is that no matter how far they may have strayed away from God and from His laws (like the prodigal son) as they confessed their sin, God removed it even further away from them than any prodigal could ever stray.
Wendy had experienced that love of God for herself when she asked the Lord for forgiveness of all her iniquity. She also knew that she had to forgive everyone in the same way she had been forgiven by God. In that way she would become free of the effects of the sin committed against her on that coach tour. But the freedom and the healing come as one acts on that knowledge and chooses to forgive. Wendy took a long time to come to the point of deciding to forgive. But when she did, and forgave the man, God worked a miracle in her life. She was the recipient of the peace and love that the Lord poured into her heart. I was the recipient of a great hug from her when the counselling time came to an end. In one prayer ministry session the Lord had changed her incredibly. And especially her attitude towards men.
Doing what God says and forgiving those we need to forgive, opens us up to the grace and power of God to change us. It enables us to receive and experience His love for ourselves. It also enables us to love others with His forgiving love as Wendy found to her great delight.
(This is a true story but the name “Wendy” is not the real name of the person mentioned in the story).
Questions for consideration by groups or individuals. (Added September 2016)
Question 1. In the article Wendy said she found it difficult to forgive the man who tried to molest her. What made it difficut for her to forgive him? What truth eventually made her willing to forgive him?
Question 2. In Psalm 103:8-12 David describes the character of God as being merciful, gracious, slow to anger and having steadfast love. No wonder He can forgive! Do you think we humans could ever have some of those characteristics in our relationships with other people? Give some reasons for your answer.
Question 4. Having answered the previous question, review your answer in the light of the characteristics known as the “Fruit of the Spirit “that all believers are meant to exhibit in their lives. These are found in Galatians 5:22-23 and are described as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Does this make you change the answer to the last question in any way? What changes would you now make if any?
Question 5. How would you try to describe the meaning of verse 12 to those who wanted to know if God could forgive them of some pretty nasty stuff in their past lives? What truths from that verse would you try to bring out to them?
Jim Holbeck. Blog No.16. Posted on Friday 11th March 2011