Forgiveness is one of the toughest things to do, and yet Jesus said, For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15) Yesterday on the ride to work, I heard the following commentary by Dr. Harold Sala of Guidelines International on the radio that I want to share with you.

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)

Archibald Hunter says that forgiveness is “surrendering my right to hurt you because you have hurt me.” “Not exactly,” says Richard Smith, saying that this is too easy because we let the offender off the hook. Richard is a missionary and counselor who has made a lifetime study of cultures and relationships—how people relate to each other. Richard and his wife Connie recognize that forgiveness is important—very important, but they are also convinced that a lot of people mouth empty words of forgiveness, glossing over acts of wrongdoing at the very time they hold on to bitterness in their hearts.

“Forgiveness means releasing the other person from your judgment and trusting God to handle it, even to the point of extending mercy, if that is His choice,” writes Richard. Are both men saying the same thing, simply using different words? Or is there a basic difference?

I’m convinced that a lot of people make a stab at forgiveness but simply gloss over the severity of wrongdoing and the consequences of sinful actions which have been directed against them as a victim. Knowing that Jesus said we must forgive each other if He, in turn, forgives us, they say what they think they are supposed to say.

We make statements like, “After all, he’s just human.” Or, “Well, it was your fault just as much as it was mine.” Sometimes we ignore the problem which continues to fester and grow, saying, “We’ll just not talk about this any more because every time we get into a discussion about this, we both get angry and say things we shouldn’t say.”

After I spoke on the importance of forgiveness, a woman told me about the brutal murder of her son. The youth who had killed her only son was sent to prison, yet her heart was filled with rage. After all, the victim was her only child, and he had tragically been denied a chance to grow up. He had been cut down in his youth, unfairly and unjustly. Of course she was angry. Yes, she was also a Christian. Yes, she knew mentally she had to forgive. She had the solution in her head. But she just couldn’t do it.

The more she thought and prayed about it, the more she began to see the issue from God’s perspective. She knew she couldn’t gloss over the murder. What had happened was horrible. Not just to her son, but to her as well. Some way, she began to realize vengeance wasn’t her responsibility. It was God’s. And that’s when she began to realize God had to deal with the murderer and she believed God would do just that.

“But the kid in prison doesn’t know about God,” she thought. Did she confront her son’s murderer? No. She chose instead to send him a Bible with a long letter, explaining how she felt, telling him that God whose Son cried out, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” as He was being crucified would also forgive him as well.

“Don’t do this,” the warden at the prison urged her. “You’re wasting your time,” he added. But she did. “And when I did that,” she said, “the burden lifted and only then I could forgive him.”

Richard is right. “Forgiveness means releasing the other person from your judgment,” putting the perpetrator of wrong in God’s hands, allowing God to do whatever He chooses to do, whether it is to extend mercy to him or to exact the full measure of judgment, which is His right to do—not yours. I’m convinced it is more than just giving up my right to hurt you because you hurt me. It means trusting God to handle the situation, leaving it to Him who alone knows the hearts and the weakness of the flesh. That is what real forgiveness is all about. Nothing less will do.