We all have reasons to hold grudges. People wrong us. Situations hurt us. Even God does not always do what we think He should do, so we get angry. We hold offenses against those who have wronged us, and often against God who we think should have done things differently. A grudge is nothing more than a refusal to forgive. So, since this tendency is inherent in all of us and seemingly unavoidable, what does the Bible say about it?
God has such a strong concern about grudges that He included a specific command about them when He gave the Law to the Israelites. Leviticus 19:18 says, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” It is interesting that God concluded this particular command with the words “I am the Lord.” In doing so, God reminded us that He is the Lord, not us. To hold a grudge is to set ourselves up as judge and jury—to determine that one person’s wrong should not be forgiven. No human being has the right or authority to do that. Romans 12:19 says, “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.”
Misunderstanding forgiveness often keeps us in bondage to grudges. We think that to forgive is to excuse sin or pretend the offense did not matter. Neither is true. Forgiveness is not about the other person. Forgiveness is God’s gift to us to release us from the control of someone who has hurt us. When we retain a grudge, we give someone we don’t like power over our emotions. Without forgiveness, just the thought of an offender can send acid to our stomachs and heat to our faces. In essence, we make that person an idol, giving him or her control over us (Deuteronomy 32:39). But when we forgive, we release to God any right to vengeance or restitution. Forgiveness puts our relationship with God back in proper alignment. We acknowledge that He is the Judge, not us, and that He has the right to bring about any resolution He chooses. Forgiveness is the choice to trust God rather than ourselves with the outcome of the offense.
We often hold on to grudges because we feel we have the responsibility to see that justice is done or that others know how badly we were hurt. But when we release the situation to God, along with the right to dictate the ending, we free the Lord to work as He sees fit without our anger getting in the way (Matthew 18:21–22).
It is important to remember that forgiveness and reconciliation are not synonymous. Forgiveness is a matter of the heart. It is an act of surrender to God’s will and is primarily between us and God. We release to Him our right to hang on to anger (Psalm 115:11). However, reconciliation depends on the true repentance and proven trustworthiness of the offender. For example, in the case of spousal abuse, the victim must forgive as part of her ongoing healing. She can release her anger to God. But, at the same time, she must keep protective boundaries in place until the abuser has proven over time that he is worthy of her trust (see Proverbs 26:24–25).
“The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). We do God no favors by trying to “help” Him right a bad situation through our vengeance. He does not need our anger. He needs our cooperation as we submit to doing things His way (Proverbs 3:5–6). And God’s way is always to forgive as He has forgiven us (Matthew 18:35; Ephesians 4:32).
We can release a grudge with a simple act of our will, by offering the whole situation to God and letting go of it. Forgiveness brings healing to our souls and allows God to build His strength and character into our lives as we allow Him to reign as our only God (Romans 8:29).