How Do We Forgive Our Enemies?

By Curtis Rittenour | Posted October 21, 2014

During an extraordinary interview before a live audience this past week, Michelle Knight, one of three women held captive for 11 years by Ariel Castro, talked about learning to forgive even the most brutal kinds of offenses against us. Her powerful message made headlines.

Kidnapped and enslaved

Knight was abducted in August 2002 when she was 21 years old. Over the next decade, she was repeatedly raped and emotionally abused by Castro—who eventually kidnapped two other women. Her captor taunted her that nobody was looking for her, that family and police assumed she ran away and quit searching. When she asked Castro why he kidnapped her, he admitted, “I’m a sex addict, and I cannot control myself.”

Then, in May of 2013, the three women escaped. Castro was soon arrested and was sentenced to life in prison without parole plus 1,000 years after pleading guilty to 937 counts of rape, kidnapping, and aggravated murder. Just a month into his sentence, however, he was found dead in his cell from suicide. It seems the man who imprisoned three women for a decade couldn’t face his own imprisonment after just one month.

Knight says she survived her ordeal by faith and prayer. Though it was difficult, she clung to hope. Amazingly, after therapy and seasons of prayer, Michelle eventually came to the point where she was able to forgive her captor. She admitted that at first she hated him, but came to accept that he was a sick man who needed help. Knight wrote of her horrible experience in the book Finding Me, and she is now a strong supporter of organizations helping victims of domestic violence.

Forgiveness is a choice, of course, but it’s not one that’s always based on feelings. We all struggle to forgive those who hurt us—even those we love. Scripture teaches, “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do” (Colossians 3:12, 13). For Christians, forgiveness is more than a choice; it’s a duty.

Perhaps the key to genuine forgiveness is to recognize how much God has forgiven us. When Christ died on the cross for our sins, He prayed for those who tortured Him by saying, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

Forgiving Is Not Forgetting

Forgiveness isn’t condoning wrong actions. It doesn’t mean we continue to let people wound us. It's okay to forgive and to set boundaries. What forgiveness does is take the person off our list and put them on God’s list. We trust the Lord will someday make everything right.

As we prepare our hearts and lives for the soon coming of Jesus, we will want to forgive others because of how Christ extended this gift to us. We will not want any “root of bitterness” to spring up causing trouble, “and by this … become defiled” (Hebrews 12:15). Such forgiveness does not come from within, but through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.

We'd like to know your thoughts in the comments below. Could you forgive someone who brutalized you the same way Ariel Castro brutalized Michelle Knight—or how the Romans tortured Jesus? How would such a thing be possible?

Learn more about the power of forgiveness, with this message from Pastor Doug Batchelor. 

How do you balance forgiveness and righteous anger? Listen to our Bible Answers Live archive!

Curtis Rittenour
Curtis J. Rittenour is the senior writer at Amazing Facts International. He pastored for 25 years and has authored books, magazine articles, blogs, and seminars.

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