Jesus likened withholding forgiveness to a prison (Matthew 18:21-35). The irony is the person who will not forgive is the one locked inside the four walls. Forgive means “to let go.” In order to forgive someone who has wounded us, we must let go of four prison walls that incarcerate us in the prison of un-forgiveness. The first prison wall is revenge. The second prison wall is resentment.
What is resentment?
Resentment means literally to feel again. It is bitterness, or a poison of the heart. Jesus said that we should forgive from the heart. The heart is one’s mind, will, emotions, and spirit. Whereas revenge emphasizes the will, resentment emphasizes the emotions.
How does resentment affect our vertical relationship with God?
It hardens our heart to His. Job’s friend said that the godless in heart harbor resentment (Job 36:13). When we hold on to resentment, we shut out the Spirit of God in our lives. Some even resent God’s rebuke, or correction, in their lives (Proverbs 3:11).
We drink bitterness — the poison of the heart — that turns us away from God (Deuteronomy 29:18; cf. Deuteronomy 32:32; Hebrews 12:15). God said: “Consider then and realize how evil and bitter it is for you when you forsake the Lord your God and have no awe of me” (Jeremiah 2:19). We tend to do this in one of two ways: (1) condemnation or (2) license.
Condemnation is justice without mercy. The prophet Amos wrote that justice turns into bitterness when rejecting God (Amos 5:7). He went on to say that bitterness is poison (Amos 6:12).
License is mercy without justice. Often times when we harbor resentment, we focus on God’s mercy at the expense of His justice. We are so hurt from the offender’s sin against us, only to discover that we merely issue license to be hurt again and again.
Forgiveness welds together justice and mercy. This is displayed in its ultimate clarity at the cross of Christ where God’s justice and His mercy intersect in the sweet spot of His grace. Forgiveness is the vehicle that transports that grace.
How does resentment affect our horizontal relationship with others?
It hardens our heart to the offender and often times to others because we protect our pride. The Bible describes this hardening as foolish. Solomon said that a mocker resents correction; he will not even consult the wise (Proverbs 15:12).
This horizontal hardening of the heart occurs in the same two ways as the vertical: condemnation or license. When we condemn the offender horizontally, we curse them (Judges 5:23). The apostle Paul said that the lips of those with hearts hardened to God drip with poison (Romans 4:13; cf. Psalm 10:7).
When we issue license to the offender, we weep from feeling the pain over and over again (Judges 21:12). This is due to the fact that we issue mercy without any form of justice, or boundaries. Whether, we curse with a heart of condemnation or weep with a heart of license, we continue to feel the offense over and over again. The result is a heart full of resentment and its poison of bitterness. Hubert Humphrey said: “Bitterness, or resentment, is like drinking poison and expecting your enemy to die.”
The key that unlocks the prison cell of withholding forgiveness is cross-shaped. In order to let go of resentment, we must humble our hearts (1) vertically with God (receiving His forgiveness of the debt He let go of us in Christ) and (2) horizontally in relationships (letting go of our resentment toward the offender). In order to do this, we must pour out the bitter and drink in the sweet. The Apostle Paul taught: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31-32).
Pour out the bitter. Drink in the sweet. You will be free from resentment.