This post addresses a problem that is common to all of us. It seems to be part of the fallen human condition, which means it’s in need of redemption and the sanctifying work of the Spirit. I am grateful for those who have instructed me on this subject [HT: Jim Wilson], as it has helped me with my own struggles to let go.
Holding on to an offense is one of the strong evidences of a bitter heart, and it’s contrary to the spirit of Christ. As a self-centered sinner, when someone has offended me (real or imagined); I want to nurse that offense and play the victim. I want to rehearse, over and over, often embellishing the offense with each retelling of the story to myself or others. Now I might (or might not) be a real victim of something, but the question is what does God say I am to do when I have been offended, or even think I have been offended? Do we find any warrant in Scripture for wallowing or whining?
There are some folks who have become life-long victims with alleged concern for true justice and little concern for true grace. They have a keen memory for the details of old conversations and a catalog of old offenses they keep close by. Letting go of such things is thought to be a sign of weakness, when according to Scripture it is the very picture of strength and maturity. “The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression” (Pr. 19:11). One of the key characteristics of maturity is selflessness; a willingness to sacrifice for the sake of others. Jesus is the prime example of such maturity: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Love and sacrifice go hand-in-hand. “Love covers all sins” (Pr. 10:12); “And above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins’” (1 Peter 4:8).
Choosing not to be offended is not natural; it’s supernatural; it’s the work of the Spirit. When struck, I naturally want to strike back. Jesus says to “turn the other cheek” (Matt. 5:39). When insulted, I naturally have a few insults of my own that I want to hurl back. Peter writes: “Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; 9 not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing” (1 Peter 3:8-9). When I am cursed, I naturally want to give them a piece of my mind. Jesus said, “Bless those who curse you “(Luke 6:28). That’s not only hard, it’s nearly impossible without the supernatural work of God’s Spirit. Letting go takes a lot of grace. Not letting go carries a high cost: “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. 26 But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses” (Mark 11:25-26). This warning alone should make us drop it like a hot potato!
Sometimes we’re dealing with real sins, and in such cases we’re called to go to the offender. In those cases, however, we’re not going in order to inflict pain on our offender, we’re going to win our brother; to be restored in fellowship. “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother” (Matt. 18:15). We can be angry but we may not sin in that anger (Eph. 4:26). At other times we’re dealing, not with a real offence, but a perceived offense. We’re either mistaken about what actually happened, or in our prejudice we fail to give a gracious and charitable interpretation. This says far more about our own hearts than anything else. Our holding on to such things enables us to feel justified in our continued animosity, anger, bitterness, and in some cases, our pay-back.
Letting go doesn’t mean that everything the other person did was right. Sometimes, however, there’s a greater right than being right. The offender might not deserve our forgiveness but of course neither did we deserve forgiveness. Holding on to such things is self-destructive. The container which holds such bitterness is damaged far more than the object on which that bitterness is poured. As long as you are bitter you can never get better. “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: 15 looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled” (Heb. 12:14-15).
Those who are holding on to such things are often self-deceived (Heb. 3:13). They think it’s hidden when it’s really plain to see. It’s seen in the denial of the bitterness. It’s seen in the face. It’s seen in the attitude. It’s written large because it flows from the heart. The root is underground but the fruit is out there for all to see.
We mistakenly think it feels good to be the victim. Perhaps we assume it will gain us some sympathy, or it might excuse us from addressing the issues at hand. Following Christ at this point is hard but it’s the only way out. The tension can only be relieved by letting go; by trusting God. The sooner the better!