Forgiveness is one of the most difficult things people struggle with. The reason is that the hurts we experience go straight to the depths of our hearts. And as deep as our wounds go, they can be very difficult to heal. For a simple prick of the finger, healing is generally quick; for a deliberate knifing, healing takes much more time.
That’s what makes Jesus’ response to his enemies so remarkable. He said,
Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. (34)
Think about that for a minute. Obviously, it’s easier to forgive someone who literally doesn’t know what they’re doing. They accidentally hurt you and when they find out, they’re quick to apologize. That kind of wound is relatively easy to forgive.
But what of the person who knows exactly what they’re doing? That type of person is much harder to forgive.
Which category do the Pharisees and chief priests fall into? Did they say, “Oh, Jesus, how in the world did you end up on that cross? My bad. Let me help you get off of there.”
No. From the very beginning, all their actions were quite deliberate. They paid Judas to betray him. They got false witnesses to lie about him in the Sanhedrin. They then lied to Pilate and Herod about Jesus. They incited the crowd against him. And now with him on the cross, the ruthlessly mocked him.
How in the world could Jesus say, “They don’t know what they’re doing.” They knew exactly what they were doing.
And yet they didn’t. They were blinded by their own jealousy. They were blinded by their own pride. They were blinded by their own sin. They were blinded by Satan himself.
Just as we all were at one time.
When people hurt you, no matter how deliberately, they do it because they are blind. Either they can’t see how their actions could be hurtful. Or they can’t see the value you have as a person in God’s eyes. Or they have their own hurts that they’ve never come to grips with, and it causes them to lash out in ways that even they can’t understand sometimes.
I know of a man who really struggled with forgiving his father for all the physical and emotional abuse he had poured out on his family. But the day came when God opened his eyes and he realized that his father had been abused too. That because of the hurt his father had experienced as a child, and his inability to deal with it, he grew up to be the man he had become.
And because he could finally understand his father, he suddenly felt compassion for him and was able to forgive.
That’s what we need to pray for when we’re struggling to forgive. That God would get our eyes off of us and our hurts, and pray that he would help us to understand the hurts and needs of those who hurt us. To have compassion on them.
That’s what Jesus did. Jesus saw beyond his own hurt to the utter need of those who hated him. They never ever repented for what they did. But he was able to forgive.
Though God gives you understanding of those who hurt you, they may never change. But as you start to understand them, you will change. You’ll start to focus on their hurts and needs instead of your own. And because of the compassion God puts in your heart for them, you will be able to forgive.
Is there someone you’re struggling to forgive? Pray for understanding for why they act the way they do. And as he gives you that understanding, pray for them as Jesus did,
“Father forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.”