See, my father, look at this piece of your robe in my hand! I cut off the corner of your robe but did not kill you. See that there is nothing in my hand to indicate that I am guilty of wrongdoing or rebellion. I have not wronged you, but you are hunting me down to take my life. May the Lord judge between you and me. And may the Lord avenge the wrongs you have done to me, but my hand will not touch you…
…May the Lord be our judge and decide between us. May he consider my cause and uphold it; may he vindicate me by delivering me from your hand.”1 Samuel 24:11-12, 15
David and his men were being chased down by King Saul and his army. David and his men were hiding out in the back of a cave when Saul went into the cave to go to the bathroom. While Saul was relieving himself, David snuck up and cut off a piece of Saul’s robe. All of David’s men wanted him to kill Saul, and David could have easily taken his revenge in that moment for all the ways Saul mistreated him. Instead, David seeks reconciliation and peace.
David comes out of the cave and humbly reveals the situation to Saul, and Saul breaks down at David’s kindness and generosity toward him. But notice David’s words to Saul because they are a perfect description of what happens when we forgive someone.
When someone has wronged us, the Lord commands us to forgive them. For followers of Jesus this is not a suggestion. This is a command. We forgive because we’ve been forgiven of so much. We are the most forgiven people on the planet. Who are we not to forgive? When we lavishly accept mountains of forgiveness from Jesus and yet refuse to squeeze out a handful of forgiveness for the ways other people have wronged us, we are trampling on the cross of Christ.
But notice David’s words. Forgiveness is not saying that what the other person did was okay. Forgiveness is not making excuses for other people’s wrongdoing. Forgiveness is not making light of the ways people have hurt us. Forgiveness is not a declaration that what they did was fine. It’s not an invitation for them to do it again and for us to be a doormat.
Instead, forgiveness is declaring that we will not be the one to bring justice and fairness into the situation. Forgiveness is giving up the right to seek revenge. I like the way David said it to Saul, “May the Lord judge between you and me. And may the Lord avenge the wrongs you have done to me, but my hand will not touch you…” And then he reaffirms this idea when he said, “May the Lord be our judge and decide between us. May he consider my cause and uphold it; may he vindicate me by delivering me from your hand.”
When we forgive we are not saying there shouldn’t be justice. What we are saying is that we are not the Judge. God is. When we forgive we are putting the situation in God’s hands and declaring that He is the one who will bring justice. We are trusting Him to be the Just Judge. And in so doing we are also saying, “My hand will not touch you.” But this doesn’t just mean avoiding physical violence against the person who wronged us. It also means, “My heart will not resent you” and “My mind will not harbor bitterness toward you.” There are many kinds of revenge–many that originate in the heart and mind–and forgiveness is giving up our supposed “right” to all forms of revenge.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean we instantly rebuild trust with the person. Rebuilding trust is the process of reconciliation and is step number two. Reconciliation requires two people willing to work to rebuild the relationship. Forgiveness does not. Forgiveness does not require that you trust the person, but it does require that you trust God. We must trust God enough to release the situation into His hands and trust Him with the outcome. Forgiveness is something that we work through between us and God. The third party is not required in this process. We can forgive family members who have long since passed away. We can forgive people who are no longer in our life. It doesn’t require their participation.
Reconciliation does require the other person’s participation and, if it is possible, we should pursue it. But it is not always possible, nor recommended, that we reconcile with some people. There are situations that are just too toxic for reconciliation. But no situation is beyond forgiveness. Forgiveness sets us free from the damage that resentment and bitterness does to our own heart. Forgiveness is a gift to us, made possible by Jesus’s death and resurrection. The Holy Spirit gives us the power to forgive when it seems impossible. Jesus gives us the grace to forgive when we don’t want to.
Below is a great prayer of forgiveness by Rodney Hogue. Who do you need to forgive today?
PRAYER OF FORGIVENESS:
In the name of Jesus, I choose to forgive as I have been forgiven. I now choose to forgive _____________. I release any right I have retained to bring revenge. I release them from my hands and place them into Your hands, Jesus, my Just Judge. I break every curse I have sent to them and call forth a blessing to them instead. Thank you for the grace to forgive and the power to live in freedom.