The Poison of Unforgiveness

It’s been said that I try and rationalize things and try too often to fix things. It’s my nature.

“Why is the baby crying?” “Why is this thing not working?” “Why? Why? Why?”

These are the questions I have been asked a lot over the past two decades as a mom so naturally I have evolved into this being who tries to understand and figure out the problem so as to offer a solution.

“Maybe the baby is crying because she’s hungry or needs changing.” “Maybe it’s not working because you don’t have it plugged in.” “I don’t know why it’s this way; it just is.”

You get the point.

It’s in this mess we are in that I often find myself trying to rationalize people’s behavior. I rack my brain trying to think about why people are acting the way they are, doing the things they are doing, and saying the things they are saying. I so often want to fix things and offer my opinion when I know my opinion isn’t something they want to hear, let alone listen to. It’s forced me to dig deep and spend more time with the Lord.

I have a lot to say, as well as a lot of questions. Some are private conversations I have with the Lord while others are conversations I have with people closest to me as I try and talk things out. The last twelve months have been wildly disorienting in this country. No one knows who to believe anymore, people are quick to fire off a social media post before knowing all the facts but not wanting to appear as though they don’t care, tempers have flared, and years of trust have crumpled into piles in cities across America.

As I sat today reflecting on whatever today might bring, it isn’t one singular incident affecting us like some may think; it is many. Nor will it be one singular incident that fixes things. However, many of our current problems are because we have an unforgiveness problem in this country. We have bottled up anger, resentment and hatred that is not bearing good fruit, and is definitely not the legacy we should be looking to pass down to future generations. But sadly, we are doing just that.

Several years ago, the Holy Spirit led me to write a Bible study about forgiveness and unforgiveness as it related to the fruit of the Spirit. I was at a crossroads in my life where the Holy Spirit was working on clearing out some junk in my life that I didn’t even realize I was carrying or holding on to. Of course, the Spirit knew it and knew it was affecting me, and because the Holy Spirit is always working on us for our good and His glory, He had me address it head on.

As I studied the fruit of the Spirit found in Galatians 5:22–23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” I also examined the opposite of this fruit (the counterfeit fruit as I refer to it) which is hate, sadness, disorder, impatience, unkindness, evil, disloyalty, abruptness, and rashness. This opposite list looks a whole lot different when it’s written down on paper.

Look at those words—hate, disorder, evil, and disloyalty. Yikes!

These words are ugly and we are seeing them play out in real time every day in the headlines, and it is destroying us.

In the account of the woman caught in adultery in John 8:1–11, the teachers of the religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery to the Temple and threw her on the ground in front of Jesus. Her offense was punishable by death. These leaders weren’t necessarily worried about the woman’s affair; they were actually trying to trip up Jesus.

The leaders made a few mistakes. First, they didn’t bring the man who had also been caught in adultery. It was procedure that both be brought before the authorities. Second, Jesus knew the woman wasn’t about to get anything fair thrown at her. The leaders were leading from emotion and had passed the point of rational thinking. They were after Jesus and this woman was a pawn in their scheme. Lastly, Jesus had some harsh words for these hypocritical leaders. Jesus said, “Let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone” (John 8:7). All the while, Jesus was stooped down writing in the sand inside the Temple. Sins were to be written in sand and not on stone because sins could be atoned for. These leaders were incapable of forgiving the alleged sin of this woman and wanted her permanently wiped out with a stone while Jesus knelt and wrote her sentence in the sand.

We don’t know exactly what Jesus wrote in the sand. Some speculate that maybe He wrote, “Forgiven.” Some say it was “Grace” or “Mercy.” Maybe it was her name to let her know that Jesus knew her. Whatever it was, Jesus wasn’t willing to condemn her; He was willing to forgive her.

One by one, from the oldest to the youngest, the religious teachers of the law and the Pharisees went away. Why? Because each one of them, like each one of us, has sinned and sins to some degree or another. When all that was left was Jesus, the woman and the crowd, Jesus asked her where her accusers were and did not at least one condemn her (v. 10). Her response, “No, Lord” (verse 11), and Jesus responded, “Then neither do I. Go and sin no more.”

Jesus’s response was forgiveness. He modeled it for those who were in the crowd watching. This forgiveness agitated the religious teachers and leaders even further because they didn’t believe that He had the power to forgive anyone’s sins. Jesus’s forgiveness saved that woman’s life, and hopefully, she took His command seriously and stopped doing the sin that could lead to her untimely death. I also hope that she believed in Jesus as her Savior and was forgiven once and for all.

Unforgiveness blocks our ability to extend love and compassion because it is wrapped in the counterfeit fruit. Satan is the author of the counterfeit fruit because he doesn’t want forgiveness to flow freely. Instead, he wants to perpetuate the flowing poison of unforgiveness that is running through the veins of far too many people. We can’t move forward as people, communities, and a nation until we can forgive the past and move toward the future. To bring up old offenses every time a new offense takes place diminishes the ability to heal. Jesus doesn’t bring up our old sin, but He does help us with our current and future sin by giving us access to the Holy Spirit. As people, we should follow His lead.

When those religious teachers and Pharisees slipped away one by one, they went away angry looking for their next opportunity to go after Jesus at all costs. They had not been convicted by their lack of forgiveness but instead allowed unforgiveness to fuel their cause.

There is no amount of justice that will satisfy the unforgiving heart, not even death. We need to pray that a spirit of forgiveness will wash over our land so that the counterfeit fruit of Satan will no longer be driving the narrative. There is no reconciliation without forgiveness.

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