Reformed theologian John Piper offered four suggestions for those struggling to forgive others, warning that the physical and emotional pain stemming from hurt can easily morph into "selfishness, bitterness and resentment."
Piper addressed the issue of forgiveness on his desiringGod.org podcast when a listener, identified Emily, said she was unsure of whether she'd truly forgiven her husband for a distasteful comment due to "lingering pain from the offense."
The Bethlehem College & Seminary Chancellor began by explaining that the battle for holiness both in marriage and other relationships centers on the struggle to avoid sinning in response to being sinned against.
"What makes this battle so peculiar is that in the very moment when we may be sinning against someone, we have strong feelings of self-justification because of how we've been sinned against," he said. "Some of the feelings that we have may be warranted, even justified; some of the hurt or the indignation may be justified."
Christians, however, must "navigate the complexities of both being genuinely wronged and yet dealing with our sinful responses to being wronged," Piper said.
"[My] responsibility before God is not the behaviors of my wife but my responses to those behaviors," he said. "It seems to me that the overwhelming challenge of the New Testament to all of us is to not return evil for evil."
We all hurt, disappoint, and frustrate each other every day in some degree, the pastor contended. Thus, the "great challenge" in the Christian life is to be so deeply and joyfully content in our fellowship with Jesus that we are not "drained by the disappointments of our relationships."
Still, there can be both physical and emotional pain that lingers after the act of forgiveness, the pastor said — and this is not necessarily sinful or a sign of unforgiveness.
"However, we all know that both physical pain and especially emotional pain can morph in an instant into resentment and anger and bitterness," he said. " That morphing can be so subtle that it's hard to know when it's happened."
To combat this, Piper offered four brief suggestions for keeping pain and sorrow from turning into sinful, unforgiving resentment.
First, Piper encouraged believers to "consciously take any sins of being wronged" and hand them over to God, who is "able to settle accounts more justly and wisely than we can."