When an animal is killed on a highway and the body is not cleaned up or dragged off into the woods by something, as often happens on secondary roads, driving through the area can be a pretty stomach-turning experience. The process of decay isn’t pretty, and the aroma it produces isn’t exactly something they typically bottle and sell at Dillard’s. Even after the body finally decays into an unrecognizable mess and the smell dissipates, the side of the road often bears the stain of its decomposition for a long time afterward, and a lot of people avoid even looking at it.
A similar process takes place in the human heart.
Unless tended to quickly, anger and wounded emotions can ripen into bitterness, which can then fester and putrefy into hatred. Anger, bitterness, and hatred are forms of spiritual death and decay. As a deer carcass rotting on the side of the road fills the immediate area with the stench of its decomposition, these destructive emotions and attitudes can quickly permeate an entire personality, to the point where everyone around the affected person can see and feel the results, even if they don’t know the cause (ever drive through a particular area, wrinkle your nose, and say “What died here?”).
The results of emotional death and decay are equally unmistakable. The longer it goes on, the worse it gets, the more thoroughly it permeates everything around it, and the more difficult it is to clean up completely. It leaves a stain on the personality that repels even the person who carries it. Who among us would take a rotting deer carcass home, sleep in the same room with it, bathe with it, tie it onto our backs and take it with us from place to place? The very idea is vomit-inducing. A person could not do such a thing and remain sane.
It’s little wonder then that wounded people so often hate themselves, engage in self-destructive behavior, tend to destroy all of their relationships (no matter how desperately they may want to love and be loved), and hate those around them who seem to be leading normal lives. They are walking tombs; they carry death and decay inside of themselves. It has come to saturate their every emotion, every reaction, and every thought process. Often, they are obsessed with death, pain, violence, the trappings of death, the occult and supernatural, spirits, death-related imagery, and wanting to die.
It’s little wonder that in the New Testament book of Ephesians, the Apostle Paul warns us: “Do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Ephesians 4:26). In other words, don’t let your anger fester; you can reach a point where it literally takes a miracle to set you free.
Yet, freedom is possible. Christ can deliver a person from anger, bitterness, and hatred, and can clean up the darkest heart, but he will not do so against our will. If you want to be free, you must determine to forgive all who have ever hurt you. The anger you feel toward those people is source of the problem, and as such it has to go, or it will just continue to poison you.
“But what they did to me was WRONG! It was TERRIBLE! I CAN'T forgive them!”
If this is your objection—and believe me, I understand it, as I’ve been deeply hurt by people myself and held on to that anger for a long time—you’re not understanding what I mean by ‘forgiveness’; what God means by it.
Forgiving a person does not mean that what they did to you was okay. It does not mean that they were right and you were wrong. It does not mean that you deserved what happened to you. It does not mean that you will forget what happened. It does not mean that you have to become their best friend or even speak to them again. It simply means that you cancel the debt they owe you. It’s just like tearing up an I.O.U. Think of what they did to you as a legal debt they owe you, like a large sum of money. Forgiving them is tearing up the bill, releasing them from your demand that they pay, that you be allowed vengeance on them. It means that you leave the question of payment, of vengeance, to God.
This is a decision, an act of the will, not a feeling, not an emotion. You may feel like killing them, and you can’t help the feeling, but what you choose to do is another matter. You can choose freedom, or you can choose to carry spiritual death and decay around in yourself until it saturates every area of your life, destroying you and those around you.
Adding to this, there are evil forces that will walk through what is essentially an open door in your life and do their best to see to it that you never get free; they will subject you to all manner of mental, emotional, and physical torment (see Matthew 18:21-36). In Ephesians 4, the Apostle Paul follows his admonition to “not let the sun go down on your anger,” with: “Do not give place to the devil” (Ephesians 4:27). The word “place” in this verse is translated from a Greek word that means ‘a particular, reserved, or marked-off place.’ Today, we would use such a word to designate something like a reserved parking spot. In other words, the New Testament warning is that festering anger in us sets aside a place in our lives for the devil to operate in us. It would be like giving him a room in your house, or an office in your building, for him to use as he sees fit, and as the Lord Jesus himself warned us in John 10:10, the devil comes only to “steal and kill and destroy.”
Is it any wonder then that so many who carry hatred and deep emotional wounds are also involved with the occult, obsessed with death, and seem to be caught up in the midst of perpetual ruin? It’s no coincidence.
If someone hurt you, what good do you do yourself by allowing what they did to continue to hurt you, to keep you from every good thing that might otherwise enter your life—even to allow evil spiritual forces to enter and control you? You’re not hurting the person who hurt you; you’re hurting yourself, but Christ can set you free if you’re willing to take the first step and make the decision to forgive.
Further, to become permanently free, make the decision to give your life to Christ, to make him Lord. Only by the Spirit of God in your life can you successfully overcome and be healed from the wounds of the past. Why give a place, room, or office space to the devil when you can give it to God instead? This doesn’t mean that you have to run right out and join a church, give up a bunch of money to some guy on TV with a $100 haircut, or live in a cave somewhere like a monk. It simply means that you give up control of your life to Christ and trust him to work out what is best for you as you follow him. Ask him to forgive you of every sin, to give you a new life, to cleanse and heal you, to lead you in the way you should go, to help you to overcome everything that has hurt you and held you back in the past, to give you hope and a future. Jesus came and died for us, in our place, taking the wrath of God for everything we have ever done wrong or ever will, in order to give us life, to provide for our deliverance and healing. When we come to him, turning away from our old life (what the Bible calls ‘repentance’), he takes our guilt and gives us his righteousness. His resurrection from the dead was not just a good way to end a tragic story; it’s the proof that God the Father accepted what he did on our behalf and will grant life to all who come to him and obey him.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” - Matthew 11:28-29
“If you will confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.” - Romans 10:9-10
“Because I live, you will live also.” - John 14:19
Maybe you want to take this step but you’re confused and conflicted, you don’t know what to say, how to start. Here’s a model prayer that will help you, if you’re sincere:
“God, I don’t really know what to say to you. I don’t know that I’m even sure that you’re there and listening to me. I’m talking to you because I know I can’t go on like this. I’m coming to you because you say you will help me. If what the Bible says about Jesus is the truth, if he is really your Son, if he died in my place and came back to life so that I could be reconciled with you, then I give you my life right now. Take it and be my Lord. Forgive me and wipe away all of my sins. And because I ask you to forgive me, I choose, as an act of my will, to forgive all of those who have hurt me, especially...[name the people and what they did to you] and I ask you to change my heart toward them however you will. I give them over to you. I ask you to heal me inside, to deliver me from the death and rottenness that have festered in my heart, and from any and all evil spirits that I have given a place to in my life. I take back those places and give them over to you. Take full possession of every part of me. Give me your Spirit with all of the gifts he brings, fill me with your peace, and teach me how to live for you.”
Don’t let your heart, mind, and emotions become just another lonely stretch of highway where something died and was left to rot. Give it to the one who can clean up anything, who can restore you, who can fill you with life and make you a blessing to the whole world.
“He who believes in me, just as the scriptures have said, out of his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.” – John 7:38