If someone were to ask you to make a list of all of the people that hurt you, you can probably write out a long list of those who have caused you pain. These may be family members, friends, coworkers, even a friend from church. So many friendships have been shattered because of cruel words and actions that have left those who have been hurt feeling betrayed. You never forget the hurt or the pain someone has caused you. Those feelings run deep. So how does God want us to respond to people who hurt us? Does the Bible instruct us to forgive and forget?
We can turn to the Bible for answers to this question.
The phrase “forgive and forget” is not found in the Bible. However, there are numerous verses commanding us to “forgive one another.” Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” A Christian who is unwilling to forgive others will find his fellowship with God hindered and can reap bitterness.
Luke 6:27-36 also speaks to this issue. In some areas of Christian life we struggle to find out how God wants us to respond, but that’s not the case here. God’s instructions are detailed.
Jesus said, “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28). In the following verses, Jesus gives several specific examples of how to treat those who have hurt you, and He concludes with, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). The ultimate standard is set here.
It’s important that we apply godly wisdom to all relationships we’re in. There are times when we will allow ourselves to endure unnecessary pain in relationships because we believe it’s our duty or because it brings us to a place of meekness that honors Christ. While God instructs us to take up our cross and follow Christ, it’s important to discern what God is really telling us through the pain we’re experiencing. The closer you become with the Scripture, the more God will speak to you about the relationships you’re in. He may be calling you to realign some relationships. You may be around people who negatively influence your life. Painful words and violent tempers can create traps in your life that God may not be calling you to be part of. When you seek God more when it comes to your relationships, you may also begin giving less of yourself to people addicted to gossip and slander because being in that space is not only not uplifting, but also doesn’t reflect Christ.
In these circumstances where you begin to limit the influence of the person that’s hurting you, it doesn’t mean that you will no longer love, forgive or pray for that person. It just means that you no longer allow them to take up so much space in your life. We know from Scripture that we are not our own, so regardless of how much we might love someone, including those who have hurt us, we must shift our interaction with them because our Lord tells us to. When we know that we are not our own, we also recognize that things will show up in our lives that are completely outside of our control. God calls us to forgive. As believers, we can choose whether we will hold grudges or practice grace, but if we are truly following Him, the choice has already been made. This can be tough, so God provides some balance with verses like 2 Corinthians 12:10 which says, “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distressed, with persecutions, with difficulties for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
One of the best things we can do for those who hurt us is pray for them. Many times we are not in a place to force the other person to stop their hurtful behavior. We also rarely have the power to change them, but we do have the power to change our response to the person. God simply tells us to pray for them. If you’re wondering what you should pray about, the answer is simple. Pray that God will help you to love this person. Pray that God will help you to see the good things He wants you to do for this person. Pray that God will bless this person.
What’s so great about these prayers is that they focus your attention on God. Instead of being consumed with the hurt, you focus on God, the One who can heal the hurt, and give you the power to respond in a radically new way. King David demonstrates this many times in the Psalms he wrote, speaking of the betrayal of friends and enemies – calling on God to punish them. When David was fleeing for his life because his son Absalom was leading a rebellion, a man named Shimei came out and cursed David and threw stones at him. When one of David’s generals asked permission to take off his head, David responded, leave Shimei alone, perhaps God has told him to curse me (2 Samuel 16:5-4). This is a powerful response in such a difficult time. David protects himself from sinning by trusting God and assuming that God’s plan is beyond his understanding.
We can use David as an example in our own lives.God wants us to trust Him regarding our relationships with others. Ask yourself if the relationships you’re in really reflect God. Our best relationships are the ones that have Jesus at the center of them. It’s very possible that if a person is always hurting you, Jesus is not at the center of your relationship with them and that’s not healthy for your physical, emotional, mental or spiritual well-being. If God is not present in the relationship you’re in, it may be time to reevaluate the relationship or at least change the way you interact with each other.
The ideal is to forgive and forget which isn’t always easy to do, but good for our own emotional and spiritual well-being. Remember, love keeps no record of wrongs (1 Corinthian 13:5) and covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). Be mindful of those around you who hurt you, and cling to those who love you and have a desire to uplift you.