Why Forgiving Doesn’t Heal You
Most of us know how important it is to forgive people who have sinned against us. But we often wonder why we continue to feel hurt, shame, guilt, fear, or anger after we’ve forgiven the one who hurt us. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say, “I’ve forgiven them, but I’ll never forget what they did to me,” or “I thought I dealt with that a long time ago, but it still hurts every time someone mentions it.”
It’s been said, “You know you’ve been healed when you can tell the story and it doesn’t hurt anymore.” It’s a simple idea but there’s a lot of truth to it. The barometer of emotional healing is how much discomfort you suffer when you re-live the memory of an event. If it’s painful to recall an event, you may have forgiven the person, but you haven’t been healed of the emotional trauma it caused. That’s because forgiveness frees the other person of the consequences of their offense, but it doesn’t address the wounds we receive from it.
Jesus told His disciples, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:23) In this verse Jesus was not speaking of heaven’s power to forgive sin, but ours. Although sin has eternal consequences it also has temporal ones. When we choose to forgive others it frees them of the temporal consequences of their sin.
When someone sins against us in a way that causes us emotional pain, our soul suffers a wound in much the same way that our body would if they were to hit us with a baseball bat. Forgiving them does not heal the wound. But there is a way we can be healed of this trauma. In the same way that the suffering of Christ makes possible our physical healing, it also makes possible our emotional healing.
Most of us are familiar with the verse in Isaiah 53 that says, “By His stripes we are healed.” This verse is usually connected with physical healing. But this chapter opens with a different emphasis. Verse one says, “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” Grief and sorrow are emotions that need to be healed. In addition to paying for our physical healing, Jesus paid the price for our emotional healing.
Our body and soul do not automatically receive healing. Just as assistance from a believer is helpful in obtaining physical healing, another believer can assist us in receiving emotional healing. (It’s possible to receive any type of healing by yourself, though it is not common to be healed this way.)
Emotional healing may require us to repent of sinful attitudes we’ve been holding. It often requires Jesus to show us the truth about a lie we’ve believed, and it usually involves Him personally healing our wounded soul. It may also require us to forgive ourselves. (Some people find this to be the most difficult part of the process.)
Forgiving the person who wounded us is important, but it’s only the first step in the process of being healed.