Jesus warns, “If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14–15). Do you hear the suicide in forgivelessness? If we are too proud or bitter to hold out the hands of forgiveness, God will withdraw his. If we refuse to forgive, he will hold our every sin against us, until we can pay for them all (Matthew 18:35) — and we will never pay for them all. To withhold forgiveness is not only to join Satan in his wickedness, but it is to be left with Satan and his wickedness — miserable, unforgiven, cast into outer darkness.
Much of our confusion and misery in life is due to our underestimating (or ignoring altogether) the enemy of our souls. Some of us rarely think of Satan and his demons, and if we do, we often downplay their power and influence. Surely, we could overestimate Satan (and many do), but in our day, especially in the West, it seems like he gets less attention and resistance than he deserves.
While the devil is already defeated and his end is sure, he is still “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31), and he still leads “the cosmic powers over this present darkness” and “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). And he rules and corrupts through deception. “There is no truth in him,” Jesus warns. “When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). So, the apostle Paul warns, we must be careful lest we “be outwitted by Satan” or be found “ignorant of his designs” (2 Corinthians 2:11).
What may surprise us is what, in particular, prevents us from being outwitted by Satan. Paul writes, “What I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs” (2 Corinthians 2:10–11). Do you want to know what Satan’s schemes are? He wants you to hold a grudge. He wants you to believe vengeance is yours, and not God’s. Forgiveness outwits Satan, and forgiveness subverts his wickedness.
Why Is Forgiveness Hard?
Forgiveness may be the hardest thing many of us do in our lifetimes. I say may, because many suffer and wrestle in horrible ways. But even then, how much of our suffering is owing to someone else’s sins or failures? Because none of us is without sin, forgiveness is simply a given if we want to love and be loved in this life.
Forgiveness can be hard because it fights against all the impulses of our flesh: “Did you see how he hurt me? Why would I make myself vulnerable again?” “The pain still feels so fresh and deep — how could I possibly pretend to be okay with her?” “This is the dozenth time he has done this to me.