Summer is a great time to explore the Shenandoah Valley and our surrounding mountains. A multitude of trails beckon us to discover all they have to reveal.

Several summers ago, my son and I hiked a National Forest trail near the headwaters of Little Stoney. As we meandered up through the forest, Allen was several yards in front of me. This was not because I was giving him a head start but because my boy was in much better shape than his dad.

About halfway up the trail, he turned around and calmly explained that there was a rattlesnake lying up ahead. As I pulled up beside him, I beheld a very beautiful 5- foot specimen sunning himself on the path. After he posed for several photos, he slithered into the underbrush without shaking his play toy. Thankful for the encounter, we continued upward with heightened vigilance.

This encounter reminded me of a situation that we sometimes face with others. Although most of us would never think of grabbing a rattlesnake by its tail, we often do something much worse whenever we refuse to forgive others.

Referring to forgiveness, someone wisely observed, “Letting go of a rattlesnake might help the snake, but it benefits you as well.” Imagine mistakenly grasping the tail of one of these poisonous creatures and being bitten as it tries to escape. That would be bad enough. But if we then intentionally held on allowing it to bite us repeatedly would be nothing short of insanity. Sadly, that’s not much different than what really happens when we hang on to our hurts and refuse to forgive those who have done us wrong.

One study revealed that the ability to forgive others is the trait most strongly linked to happiness. Other research demonstrates that chronic unforgiveness causes increases in our blood pressure, heart rate, and stress hormones every time we think of our transgressors. Someone put it this way, “Unforgiveness is the poison we drink thinking someone else will die.”

On the other end, those who do forgive report less pain, depression and anger. Who knew? God did. As did His Son who once told a powerful story about forgiveness. Jesus described a man who owed his king five billion dollars by today’s standards. There was no way he could ever repay and begged for leniency. With great mercy, the king forgave him.

Unfortunately, that same man found someone else who owed him less than $20. Instead of passing on the forgiveness he freely received, he threw his debtor in jail until he could repay. To find out what the king did when word got back to him, read Matthew 18:21-35.

Forgiving someone doesn’t mean they didn’t hurt us. If they didn’t hurt us there would be nothing to forgive. They incurred a real debt. It also doesn’t mean we’re necessarily ready to reconcile. We shouldn’t do so unless there has been true repentance. It just means we’re not going to hold their offense against them anymore. It means making a conscious decision to let go of a rattlesnake that keeps biting us.

Those who have wronged us often have no ability to repay us anyway, just as we lack the assets to pay off our own five billion dollar sin debt to God. Thankfully, God took care of that for us when His Son wiped away our indebtedness as He died on the cross. When we experience His extravagant forgiveness, He then endows us with the spiritual resources to forgive those who wrong us. It’s still a conscious decision we choose to make, but at least we can forgive our debtors as we have been forgiven.

If you’ve never enjoyed the feeling of being released from the debt of your sins, ask God to do that today through Jesus’ sacrifice. If you have been forgiven, pass this incredible gift along to others by forgiving them and letting go of the rattlesnake. Enjoying forgiveness, George

George Bowers is the senior pastor of Antioch Church of the Brethren and has authored 16 books, including “Blessings Volume 3,” which is a collection of these articles. It is available at Four Star Printing and Shenandoah Stuff. He can be reached through or at


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