Faith and Life: Forgiveness as an aspect of healing the self

What does it exactly mean to forgive? It is for the other person? Us? God?

The Bible does tell us to forgive and likens it to the way God forgave us through Christ's sacrifice. "Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you" (Ephesians 4:31-32).

Some people have been extremely injured in life. They may be stuck and unable to move on. When this happens, some seemingly caring Christian may tell them they need to forgive and move on, that lack of forgiviness is a sin. But what if someone is traumatized, wronged, or just plain hurt by another person they have forgiven, and they can't move on emotionally?

One of the issues I see in the therapy room is Christians who have been severely damaged. They are suffering and then a helping hand comes along and they are told to forgive. Is this a bad thing?

Of course forgiveness is not bad! But telling someone they need to forgive and that it is a sin not to is not helpful when they are wounded. In fact, it can be a form of toxic faith.

Forgiveness is something we do to free ourselves, not the perpetrator, from a prison of pain. God tells us to forgive because he has forgiven our sins and he knows it is freeing and the road to emotional health.

God forgives out of mercy. We are to forgive others because we have received this mercy from God. Not forgiving can prevent us from emotional healing, cause stress, medical issues and bitterness. To forgive another not only is an act of obedience to God, but it is for us. We can be free from bitterness and its negative consequences on our health when we forgive.

However, forgives alone is not always healing. Healing is a long road to be traveled pace by pace. Healing comes from having others hear our stories, being accepted, talking it out, feeling loved and heard (not just listened to), and understood.

There are some horrendous issues that people have experienced in life. If a woman is raped, should we as Christians say, "You need to forgive your perpetrator, honey, the Bible says so." Of course not — this is ludicrous. We would come alongside, comfort and pray, and hopefully refer her to a professional trained in healing the crisis and aftermath of rape. Then we would encourage forgiveness after a measure of healing has been attained.

Yet, Christians say similar things like this all over the world. We lean on the Bible without understanding what it is really saying: there is Hebrew, Greek, the context in the Biblical book, the culture at that time, etc. For this reason, we may rush to give answers that only do more damage — and add another issue for the victim to feel shame about.

Let's understand the Bible and principles it adheres to. Let's stop our tongues (and heart) from saying, "You need to forgive" when a person is desperate and needs assistance to heal. We only reinjure the victim and add another quandary for them to feel guilty over when what they really need is love, acceptance and care.

Christians can be some of the most callous people on Earth when they lack compassion and wear judgment like it is a crown not to be argued with. People need consideration. I am sad to say that many Christians overlook this.

People need to be loved and led into the healing arms of Jesus. And I can tell you this: That is exactly what Jesus modeled. Never ridicule.

The Rev. KIMBERLIE ZAKARIAN can be reached by e-mail at or by mail at La Vie Counseling Center c/o the Rev. Kimberlie Zakarian, La Vie Counseling Center, 650 Sierra Madre Villa, Suite 110, Pasadena.

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