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Horizontal forgiveness – the Downside

24th May 2021

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Can there ever be a downside to forgiveness? Biblically speaking, of course not. Every Christian knows what a wonderful gift forgiveness is. If you are anything like me, you’ll love to sing the hymn, ‘And Can It Be.’ We sing the first few verses in excitement as part of the build-up to the last couple of lines in verse four. In my mind I hear trumpets blaring, cymbals crashing, bass and soprano voices doing what I cannot as we sing “… my chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.” But what follows in our personal experience of forgiving someone who has hurt us, might not always feel so great.

After being deeply hurt by someone I loved and moving forward following repentance and reconciliation, I began to feel angry. For them, they were enjoying the gift of being forgiven by their heavenly Father and further benefiting from my own willingness to forgive them. They were set free and this freedom was enabling them to enjoy a deeper relationship with Christ. I knew this was the way it should be, but I felt like I was about to embark on a difficult journey while they had a newfound joy. This is what we could call the downside of Horizonal Forgiveness.

Applying a biblical framework of forgiveness is a messy business because we live in a context of brokenness. We will always have to face the consequences of sin in our own life and the residue of sin left behind by others until we enjoy full restoration in glory. In my personal situation, the ‘offender’ learned their own painful and difficult lesson and was forever changed by it – because they sought the Lord’s forgiveness, and mine. Yet I floundered before the Lord. It seemed so unfair… I did not want to feel broken. However, I am convinced that I was obedient in the granting of forgiveness when genuinely asked and was left with a proper platform for the Lord to minister his own healing touch to me. My personal restoration, although bumpy, had a logical and biblical process. But where would I have been if pressed to forgive the same person without any repentance on their part? On very shaky ground. Not only would any attempt at reconciliation have a false premise, but a foothold for resentment could easily gain entry. Resentment because we would always see this person as having no self-awareness or care of how they hurt others. Might we then pass this resentment onto our view of God? Thinking that he demands the granting of forgiveness without repentance. Our misapplication of forgiveness could leave us misunderstanding God; requiring a theology of universalism.

Horizontal forgiveness with a broken humanity and wounded hearts will bring us to one place if we cry out to the Lord – the cross of Jesus Christ.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.  (Hebrews 4:15-16)

In the crisis of hurt and the battle of forgiving others, let us boldly approach the throne of grace. Christ is entirely willing and able to sustain us. This is not a quick fix, but he is faithful and promises to be with us to the end. Even if the only words we can utter in our pain are, “help me Jesus,” then utter them in faith knowing that he holds you in love. 


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