A friend hurt me. Not a mild insensitivity, but a deep, painful wound; the kind of wrongdoing that banished her to the exile of unforgivable. I replayed the situation over and over in my head. There seemed no gap for mercy or forgiveness. I was boiling with rage and felt justified in my anger.

This kind of anger and desire for vengeance was new to me.

I get angry, but normally my anger is cooled through reminding myself that I’ve probably done worse. In this case though, the anger was here to stay, forcing me to ask some of the most difficult questions I’ve ever asked myself.

How am I supposed to respond when I’ve been deeply wronged? Should my response change based on the circumstance? Does it matter whether the wounds were intentional or unintentional? Did God really mean what he said when he said that to be forgiven, I must forgive?

For a believer, knowing how to move forward when wrongdoing severs a relationship can be confusing.

The world preaches a message of self-care and boundaries. It says, “this far and no more.” And it sounds good. It sounds good and is good to take care of yourself, to stand up for yourself and to have healthy boundaries in toxic relationships. But what does that look like for a Christian? What does it look like to refuse to exchange the world’s message of self-care for God’s message that he is our care? How can we avoid falling into the sin of unforgiveness for the sake of self-care?

What Jesus Says

We have to look to Jesus in a practical way. Jesus became fully human so that we can look to him as our example of how to live in a messy world that is plagued with sin and brokenness (Heb 4:15-16). Jesus had a case for slander. He had a case for physical abuse. He had a case for rejection, betrayal and unmitigated suffering. He who was blameless experienced more pain and emotional abuse than we will ever understand.

Peter asked Jesus, “How often am I supposed to forgive someone who sinned against me?” Thinking he was being generous in his forgiveness, he continues,  “As many as seven times?” (Matt 18:21). Jesus responds, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven” (Matt 18:22).

There’s no confusion in Jesus’ point; there’s no limit to the amount of times we’re commanded to forgive one another.

But what really stood out to me is that Jesus doesn’t ask Peter what kind of wrong he was talking about. He didn’t ask for details of the situation. He didn’t ask Peter how hurt he was. Forgiveness was not conditional based on the wrong or the pain of that wrong.

The world tells us that the expectation to forgive is directly proportionate to the amount of pain the person caused you. Small sin, forgive. Bigger sin, you’re off the hook to forgive. But Jesus doesn’t have caveats to his forgiveness.

I think about Jesus a lot when it comes to forgiving others. Jesus forgave Judas when he betrayed him (Lk 23:34). Jesus forgave Peter when he denied him (Jn 21:15-19). Jesus forgave Paul for murdering his saints (Acts 9:17-19). Jesus forgave the adulterous woman (Jn 8:11). Jesus forgave me. He forgave me when I was his enemy (Rom 5:10). He forgave me for all of my sin (Heb 8:12). He even forgave me for this very unforgiveness I was holding to so tightly.

Applying Forgiveness

If Jesus is my example for forgiveness, it calls into question what self-care and boundaries should look like. It calls me to trust the wounds of my heart to his care. It calls me to trust him to remove the razor wire and tear down walls that I built around my heart to guard myself from ever being hurt like this again.

It calls me to trust that vengeance belongs to God, not me (Rom 12:19-21).

Forgiveness demands a deep and abiding trust in the sovereign care of God. We can forgive others because we can trust the perfectly merciful, all-knowing and perfectly just God who cares for us when others do not, and who is making all the brokenness right again. When we’re hurt by others’ sin against us, we have to examine our anger for signs of spite, bitterness, and self-righteousness. We have to pray for help to love Jesus more than we love ourselves, trusting that he will care for us in our obedience better than we could care for ourselves through treasuring our anger.

We have to believe that we’re the worst of all sinners. We forgive much because we have been forgiven much (Matt 6:12, 14-15). We can only do forgiveness like this by the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul teaches this type of forgiveness in his letter to the Ephesians.

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 4:32-5:2

Paul teaches the way we forgive is by looking at Christ.

If we look to ourselves—or the offense against us—our flesh will not want to forgive. We can forgive all things because forgiveness isn’t dependent upon the offense at all. Forgiveness is dependent upon Christ. We imitate God by looking to Christ and forgiving others as he has forgiven us. We apply Christ’s command to forgive by dwelling on his forgiveness. Then, when we manifest the forgiveness Jesus gave to us and offer it to others, forgiving others becomes a shocking and beautiful privilege.

Questions to consider:

+ Do you have a person that you find hard to forgive? What offense might be keeping you from forgiving that person?

+ When you think about all that Jesus forgives us for and all he endured on your behalf, can you trust him to answer the sin committed against you?

+ What’s the hardest part of forgiveness for you? What does it look like to begin the process of examining your heart to entrust the difficulty of forgiveness to God?

Annie Lent lives in Austin, Texas with her husband, Kyle, and two daughters, Norah and Josie. She and her husband serve at the Austin Stone Community Church