Get Renew.org Weekly Emails

Want fresh teachings and disciple making content? Sign up to receive a weekly newsletters highlighting our resources and new content to help equip you in your disciple making journey. We’ll also send you emails with other equipping resources from time to time.

7 minutes
Download

Why Forgiveness Is Important: What Happens When We Do & Don’t

Since forgiveness isn’t usually easy, it’s worth pausing to ask why forgiveness is important. To help us think through the importance of forgiveness, here is what happens when we don’t forgive and when we do.

If I don’t cultivate the rhythm of forgiveness . . .

The Bible starts with God creating a beautiful world and saying that it’s very good. For a book that starts out happy, it gets dark quickly. By chapter three, the humans have decided to rebel against God and choose for themselves what’s right and wrong. By chapter four, a young man named Cain gets jealous of his brother, Abel, because God prefers Abel’s sacrifice—and so he takes his brother out in a field and murders him. We’re not even to the end of chapter four before a man named Lamech is boasting to his wives of killing two men for injuring him.

Here’s what Lamech told his wives: “I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for injuring me.” Then he references back to Cain the brother-killer: “If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times” (Genesis 4:23b–24).

Ever since, we humans have tended to respond to hurt with more hurt. We retaliate like we’re playing a tennis set, where you have to win by 2 games. Although a set is supposed to end with the first person who wins 6 games, to win by 2 means that a tennis set can just keep escalating: 5 games to 5 games, 5 to 6, 6 to 6, 7 to 6, 7 to 7, 8 to 8, 8 to 8, 8 to 9, and so on. Responding to hurt with more hurt, which brings more hurt, gets exhausting.


Why forgiveness is important: “Responding to hurt with more hurt, which brings more hurt, gets exhausting.”


True story: Two feuding families in Kentucky and West Virginia in the late 1800s—the Hatfields and McCoys—felt that they were right to defend their families’ honor, but the result was a dozen family members dead. When the McCoys accused the Hatfields of stealing their pigs, the trial went for the Hatfields, and two McCoys took revenge by killing a trial witness for the Hatfields.

In an ensuing fight, one Hatfield was mortally wounded, and the Hatfields responded by executing three McCoy brothers. A McCoy killed a mail carrier and was in turn hunted down by a Hatfield policeman. Hatfields then surrounded a McCoy cabin, set fire to it, and killed two McCoys as they fled the cabin. Eventually, state militias had to intervene and put an end to the carnage.

Unforgiveness means embittered hearts, elevated blood pressure, raised fists, broken bones, destroyed relationships—sometimes even killings. If we don’t develop the habit of forgiveness, the evil done to us morphs into evil stirring within us. That’s a huge win for evil.


Why forgiveness is important: “Unforgiveness means embittered hearts, elevated blood pressure, raised fists, broken bones, destroyed relationships—sometimes even killings.”


If I do cultivate the rhythm of forgiveness . . .

Early on in Victor Hugo’s novel Les Misérables, a peasant named Jean Valjean was caught breaking a windowpane to steal a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s family of seven children. The initial sentence was five years as a galley slave, although it increased to nineteen years total after he tried to escape numerous times. Although he had wept upon entering his imprisonment, the man who emerged nineteen years later was hardened and soulless. When the ex-convict couldn’t find work, a compassionate bishop let him stay the night, and Valjean responded by stealing the bishop’s basket of silverware and running away in the middle of the night.

The next morning, three police officers arrived at the bishop’s house, holding a fourth man by the collar: Valjean. They explained that they had caught the man with stolen goods which they believed belonged to the bishop. The bishop replied directly to Valjean: “Ah! Here you are! I am glad to see you. Well, but how is this? I gave you the candlesticks too, which are of silver like the rest, and for which you can certainly get two hundred francs. Why did you not carry them away with your forks and spoons?” He then addressed the confused police officers, explaining that Valjean was innocent. When they released Valjean and left, the bishop whispered what had just happened to Valjean, who was the most confused of all:

“Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good.”


“Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good.”


For the rest of the novel, Jean Valjean is no longer Prisoner #24601, the hardened ex-con. He has changed into an honest, compassionate man who becomes the novel’s selfless hero.

As we develop the habit of forgiveness, we participate over and over in God’s plan to redeem people from their imprisonment to sin and bring them into the sunlit freedom of mercy and kindness. When we forgive people, it points them to God who forgave us and who will forgive them and fundamentally transform them.

Jesus’ disciple Peter once asked Jesus, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” (Matthew 18:21). Seven times is a lot. Peter must have felt like he was being generous with that suggestion. Yet Jesus responded, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22). Now, where have we heard “seventy-seven” before? It was Lamech in Genesis 4, boasting to his wives of how he had killed people for wounding him, and that, “If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times.”


Why forgiveness is important: “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”


By developing the habit of either unforgiveness or forgiveness, we choose which seventy-seven we join in on—the multiplication of mercy or the unending cycle of eye for eye, tooth for tooth, and life for life of unforgiveness.


Excerpted from Daniel McCoy’s and Andrew Jit’s Rhythms: How to Live as a Disciple of Jesus.

Come hear Andrew talk about “Rhythms: How to Live as a Disciple of Jesus” at the 2024 National Gathering! Register HERE.

Get Renew.org Weekly Emails

Want fresh teachings and disciple making content? Sign up to receive a weekly newsletters highlighting our resources and new content to help equip you in your disciple making journey. We’ll also send you emails with other equipping resources from time to time.

You Might Also Like

Bless Your People

Bless Your People

If you sneeze and someone is nearby to hear you, you’ll likely hear them say, “Bless you!” According to grammarist.com, Gesundheit is an interjection used to wish good health to someone who has just sneezed. It comes from the German language, where it means, literally, “Health!” In German it is used as the equivalent of […]

More