There’s an uncomfortable contrast between forgiveness and healing.
We forgive those who wound us, and with the grace that Jesus is so generous about pouring into our lives, we can (eventually) forgive even the most debilitating, the most wounding, the most egregious offenses against us.
More, we need to forgive those offenses. In some way (see Matthew 6:14), our own forgiveness is tied to how we forgive others. And we’re commanded to forgive (see Matthew 18:23-35), so it’s pretty important.
But forgiving is not the same as healing. The act of forgiving the one who hurt me does not – in and of itself – heal the wound that they caused. Forgiving them is about not holding the offense in my soul against them, about no longer looking for revenge (whether actively or passively) against them, about not allowing a “root of bitterness” to grow in my spirit to make accusations against my offender and against God. That’s powerful stuff, but it’s not the same as healing the wound that came from their offense.
On the cross, Jesus forgave the people who nailed him there, but he still died from the wounds. In Acts 7, Stephen forgave those who wounded him by throwing stones, but he, too, died from that stoning.
I’ve seen confusion among believers about this in two manifestations:
1) “I’ve forgiven them for wounding me. So why am I still wounded? I thought that forgiving them would make it stop hurting!”
2) “But you forgave me! Why aren’t you trusting me? Why are you still acting like you’re hurting there? I guess you didn’t REALLY forgive me, did you!”
The reality is that forgiving and healing are two completely different issues. One might as well ask, “Why am I broke at the end of the month? It’s still raining in the Northwest, isn’t it?” Well, yes, it is still raining in the northwest, but that doesn’t actually have anything to do with your personal spending habits! In similar manner, there is not a direct correlation between forgiving and being healed.
It’s worth noting that there IS a small-but-significant connection between forgiving and being healed: we receive healing more easily when we’ve forgiven. But don’t be distracted by that small issue: healing is not an automatic result of forgiving.
We must forgive, of course, and there are enough reasons to forgive to fill a book. We could fill another book on the differences between forgiving someone and trusting them in the same way again. Frankly, they would be fine books, but that’s not the purpose for this article, which is to shoot down the false belief that “My forgiving you brings me healing.” It’s a small step in the process, and an important one, but it is not the healing.
I can forgive you for shooting me in the knee, but I will still walk with a limp until my knee is healed.