The Power of Unforgiveness

Posted on February 16, 2015 | 2 comments


I am not saying that forgiveness isn’t a tough process.

Because it is.

Restoration from the pain of lost trust, misused vulnerability or betrayed humanity is intentional and filled with grief.

There must be awareness of what was lost, mourning the loss before there can be blessing in the new. This is the Paschal Mystery of Christ and Christianity.

But what of when forgiveness is withheld or the process of forgiving is not engaged?

Just as forgiving another has power, there is power in unforgiveness.

When forgiveness is refused to the repentant, that person is being locked into a box of perceived identity. Like Hester Prynne from The Scarlet Letter, the offense become the label. One woman communicated this to me about her husband, “Cheaters cheat.”

This can have effects on the sense of self of the one unforgiven. At some point, having felt the weight of the narrative about them, they may begin to live into this false perception of identity. We tend to believe what we tell our-self, even if it is a lie.

I am reminded of the self-narrative a young woman who I worked with once told me, “my dad used to tell me I was a dirty girl.” It’s not surprising that lie became part of her identity.

Unforgiveness can influence the mindset and identity of the one who is unforgiven.

But the power does not stop there.

It is hard to forgive when you are needing something from the other in order to sustain your identity. An inability to forgive and unwillingness to engage the process indicates a potential issue with identity in Christ.

Making another work for their forgiveness – penance – is a slap in the face of the grace and mercy those who are in Christ live in.

Living in unforgiveness leads to anger, anxiety and insecurity, that will dwell just below the surface and affect emotional, physical, and spiritual health.

Making the idea “I’ve been sinned against” part of your own story serves the purpose to add an air of superiority to your own false self. Through comparison, they failed, I did not, that adds value to my sense of self.

The pain of another’s sin, and the potentially difficult process of forgiveness, my serve a beneficial purpose. It allows us to further step out of our false garments of identity and live more solidly in the blessing of the true self in Christ – the One who was wronged on our behalf so we could live in a state of forgiveness.

What situation are you struggling to engage the process of forgiveness? What spiritual implications does this hold for you?

If you need a partner on the journey of forgiveness, contact me and we can examine your situation and determine if a coach is right for you.

I work with pastors and the people they lead to energize discipleship and improve leadership development. I am a certified coach specializing in pastoral leadership, relationships, life transitions, and Christian identity. Also, I am the author of the forthcoming book Discovering Your Root: Developing Your Identity in Christ.

Services I offer are one-on-one coaching, group/staff coaching,  speaking at organizations/churches, leadership workshops, and church retreats. For more info, click here to contact me.

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  1. Interesting thing about forgiveness…I can forgive things that were done to me much more easily than I can forgive what was done to others.

    I worked as a paramilitary in places you would not particularly care to visit, and saw things you would likely not want to see. Innocents slaughtered to make a political point, that sort of thing.

    I was an instrument of policy, but more to the point, my point, an instrument of retribution…”Revenge is mine, saith the Lord…but he subcontracts.”

    It wasn’t hard on the conscience, and it still isn’t. Whether these individuals would have sought repentance wasn’t in my purview, and would have been hard to tell, anyway, through top-line Leupold optics.

    But I can forgive people in my own past. What’s done is done, and I can let it go.

  2. Love this, Scott! Yes, it’s so true that we try to keep our offender locked into an identity that confirms our loss and wound by their hands. But this practice is one that locks us into a prison with our offender and refuses the redemption and grace that God extends to us–fellow-broken-image bearers! I’ll be chewing on this more throughout my day, my friend!

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