Unforgiveness can wreck friendships, even if your friends don’t need to be forgiven.

Do you ever screw up? I do. A lot. Nobody’s perfect, and I’ve been very fortunate in life to have friends who are very quick to forgive, not just me when I have been less than I should be have been but others who have wronged them as well. But what happens when you have a friend who has trouble forgiving others?

Two turtles peeping

Two turtles peeping - Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Proverbs 17:9.

Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends.

Proverbs is such an interesting book. It doesn’t really give commandments, necessarily, but it does state facts. It doesn’t really focus on the law; it just talks about what happens if you don’t obey the law. In this case, Christians are supposed to forgive. That’s what the Bible says. But in Proverbs, this is what happens if you don’t forgive.

Forgiveness is such a strange concept. It’s one of those paradoxes we often encounter in the Bible. We convince ourselves that holding bitterness and resentment against someone else is going to hurt them, but it actually hurts us more than it hurts them. Because it turns us into bitter, resentful people. And it doesn’t hurt the person you’re angry with at all. Half the time, if you’re feeling angry or upset at someone who has hurt you, they don’t even know how you feel. So as you spiral downward and become a hateful person, the one you’re angry with is sleeping just fine at night.

But when you forgive someone after they’ve done wrong to you? It sets you free from the power of that bitterness and hatred. And it feels like a huge heavy load is lifted off your shoulders.

But there’s another level of relationship that is affected by forgiveness or unforgiveness: your other friends.

Unforgiveness doesn’t just affect you. It affects the people around you.

If your friend is the one who hurt you, of course, unforgiveness will separate you. But, even if your friend isn’t the one responsible, refusing to forgive the person who did hurt you will still put a damper on your friendship. There is something about being around unforgiving, bitter people that makes you want to rip your hair out. Why would you want to hang out with someone who refuses to forgive?

Now, let me clarify.

There is a difference between forgiveness and restoration.

Forgiveness is commanded. Restoration takes trust; trust must be earned over time. We are commanded to forgive, mainly for our own mental health and wellbeing. As many times was we are hurt, we are to forgive. Seventy times seven. Forgive. Forgive. Forgive. But . . . do you restore the person who hurt you to the same close place of friendship that you did before they hurt you? No. The Bible is also full of warnings about staying away from foolish people. And if you continually have to forgive someone for the same hurtful actions, restoring them to a close friendship with you makes you just as foolish as they are.

Forgiveness can be very difficult. It’s tempting to hold on to hate and bitterness, but when you forgive someone else for how they hurt you, something really interesting happens: it makes you easy to love. Because to forgive someone makes you humble, and humility is lovable. Arrogance isn’t. And refusing to forgive someone demonstrates that you think you’re better than they are. And you’re not.

All we puny humans are in the same boat. Nobody’s perfect, and we all hurt each other. And even if you need to put some distance between you and the person who hurt you, you can still forgive them for what they did. Trust me. It makes life easier, not just for you but for your friends too.

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