Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God. 1 Corinthians 4:5 ESV
“I have a question,” the email read. “How can I forgive people who insulted me, lied to me and humiliated me for a long time? It was a very difficult time for me, but I could not change the situation. Now I have escaped from this hell but I have a strong desire for revenge. I want them to feel what I felt when they jeered at me.”
We can all feel for this woman who was now physically free from those who had abused her, yet who is still trapped with her pain in a different prison: the prison of bitterness. Perhaps you too, have been betrayed and mistreated. What was done was wrong; the pain is real and the perpetrators’ actions were sinful. Here are two guidelines that are helpful to think about if we are to escape the bondage, the prison, of bitterness.
Number one, we have to realize that neither you nor I have the authority to mete out the punishment a wrongdoer deserves. Remember that God says, “Vengeance is mine.” (Romans 12:19 ESV) Author Lou Priolo points out that when we impatiently try to avenge ourselves it’s like walking up to God and taking the crown off of His head! It shows a very poor understanding of who God is and what He is about. It says, “God, I don’t trust You to be just.” But the Bible declares, “From heaven you silenced your enemies; the earth trembled and stood silent before you. You stand up to judge those who do evil, O God, and to rescue the oppressed of the earth.” (Psalms 76:8-9)
And, number two, we also don’t have the ability to do the job that needs to be done. We don’t have all of the facts. Vengeance belongs to God because He is the only One who sees straight into the human heart and mind. Speaking of the person who has harmed you, Priolo says, “Suppose he has done the same thing to 12 other people this month and deserves a more serious judgment than you would think to give him. The amount of vengeance required by God’s justice is predicated on His knowledge of men’s motives.” Here’s a comforting thought: You might not even punish the evildoer enough!
If you doubt God’s ability to take care of enemies, just do a little reading in the Old Testament! “I will repay,” says the Lord. “I will deal severely with all those who have oppressed you,” God says in the book of Zephaniah. “I will save the weak and helpless ones; …wherever they have been mocked or shamed.” (Zephaniah 3:19). Just because it looks like someone who has perpetrated great evil is getting away with it does not mean that their end is not coming. God’s timing may not be our timing: “At the set time that I appoint,” He says, “I will judge with equity.” (Psalms 75:2) The Bible says, “You see the conduct of all people, and you give them what they deserve.” (Jeremiah 32:19)
God is serious about sin—it cost Him His only Son’s life and His justice is the only perfect justice that exists. Remember, we don’t have the authority to punish someone who has done wrong and we don’t have all of the facts needed to make sure that perfect justice is enacted.
To answer the question: How can I forgive? We can forgive because we aren’t letting an offender go without judgment. We can deliver our offenders up to God and this keeps us living in freedom.
Take a moment to reflect: Is there anyone in your past or in your life today that you wish you could get back at? If you’re languishing in the prison of bitterness today or you’ve gone ahead and taken things into your own hands in vengeance, you can ask God to forgive you. Then you can rest on His promise that He will dispense His perfect justice in His perfect time.
Resource Reading: Psalm 76:1-12
 Lou Priolo, Bitterness (Philipsburg: P & R Publishing, 2008), 32.