Scars and Forgiveness

I have a collection of scars, some received through no fault of my own. Well, truth be told, nearly all of them could have been prevented. Like the one I just got from slicing my finger open on a can. The stitches are out but it still itches.

The thing about scars is that they may fade, but they generally don’t go away entirely. I can remember where and when I got every one of them.

Some scars are not visible. They are the result of wounds to the soul and are usually caused by someone else. They also fade but never go away entirely.

I was talking with a friend yesterday about forgiveness. She said, “I can forgive but I sure can’t forget!” She believes a dangerous lie: “Just forgive and forget!” Barring a lobotomy, forgetting really isn’t possible. But because she believes she has to forget as well as forgive, then she concludes forgiveness is not possible.

But forgiveness does help the wounds to heal and the scars to fade.

Have you ever had a scratch that you couldn’t leave alone? It itches! I scratch it, pick at the scab, peek under the bandage, even though I know that I may be making it worse. Internal soul wounds itch also. I see the person who wounded me; see the financial loss caused by their deceit; remember the injustice I’ve experienced. Forget it? Impossible!

Interestingly, our combat trauma small groups (for veterans as well as for wives) seem to struggle the most through the chapters on forgiveness in “The Combat Trauma Healing Manual” and “When War Comes Home.” Why is it so hard? Perhaps because we keep insisting: How am I supposed to forgive? What about justice? What about compensation? What about revenge? I want them to pay for what they did!

Forgiveness is an odd concept.

What, exactly, does it mean?  “Forgiveness” is often used as an accounting term. When a debt is forgiven, the requirement to repay it is removed. If the requirement and the expectation for repayment are gone, then so is the need to try to collect on the debt. Jesus talked about this in His parable about the unmerciful servant (Matthew 18:21-35).

Forgiveness, then, is a choice I must make. It is a transaction between God and me, in which I turn over to God the debt that my enemy owes me. Only when the debt is out of my “accounts receivable” ledger, will it be possible to be able to tell my enemy I’ve forgiven him. The door is now open to the possibility of restoring the relationship. Note the word “possible.” Restoring relationships is a wholly different subject from forgiveness. It is not possible to restore a relationship without forgiveness, but forgiveness does not mean relationships will be or even should be restored. Feeling forgiving is not required.

So how do I forgive someone who has wounded me?

I see two steps:

1) Turn the debt over to the One Who is most capable and qualified to collect on it: Jesus. Allow Him to restore and make new what was destroyed in me. He is the One Who is most capable to do that also.

2) Let go of your right for revenge, i.e., payback, justice, or getting even.

Repeat step two as often as necessary.


All injustice will be avenged… by God. He will apply His vengeance on the correct persons at the correct time. If we take vengeance into our own hands, we will very likely aim our weapons at the wrong person. So our job is to forgive, which leaves the door open for His grace to work.

“Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.” Romans 12:19

And then too, in heaven, all scars will be removed, all damage corrected, everything… everything will be made new.

I’m sorry. That’s incorrect. Some scars will remain: the ones which are on Jesus’ hands, feet, and side. He was wounded for our sins. He has forgiven all of it. His scars remain as a reminder to us of the love, grace, and mercy He has extended to us. His scars remain as a reason to worship.

Maybe I can use my scars, which are visible, to remember His scars, which I cannot yet see. Then, maybe, I can remember that He forgave my sins, so perhaps I can forgive others after all. I can’t forget, but I will try to use the memories of those wounds to remember Him instead.

Pithy Statements on Forgiveness

“Harboring resentment/bitterness/lack of forgiveness is like drinking poison,
expecting the other person to die.”

“Forgiveness is a gift I give myself.”

(What other pithy statements do you know?)