Today I wanted to share five things about forgiveness that will help us to remember how important it is to our health and peace with God and others.
Who should we forgive? The short answer? Everyone! I think everyone knows that you need to forgive friends or family to repair the damage and move on. The bible tells us several times to forgive “each other” or “others.” They are referring probably to your Christian brothers and sisters but we need to be forgiving of anyone who causes us pain.
What if they are not sorry? This has happened to me before and it does make forgiving a lot easier when the person apologizes. If they are not sorry you can still forgive them and know that you did what you are supposed to do regardless of what they choose to say.
What should we forgive someone for? There are millions of different things someone could do to hurt you. So which ones are just too bad for forgiveness? People often categorize or rank sins and trespasses but the truth is that all sins can be forgiven by God and by you if you are willing to let it go. I have heard of people forgiving a criminal for murdering their son. I have heard of a wife forgiving her husband for having an affair for years. I think the ultimate example is when Jesus says in Luke 23:34 “Father forgive them (the crowd who insisted he be crucified) for they do not know what they are doing.” I am pretty sure if these sins are able to be forgiven, I can forgive someone for saying something mean about me. 🙂
When should you forgive someone? There are two ways to look at this question. The first and obvious answer is to forgive while you are still alive and able to do so. I have heard stories of people going to their death bed angry at someone. Is anything really worth holding onto a grudge that could ultimately cost you your soul because of hatred?
The other way to look at the “when” question is to think about how many times or how often you should forgive someone for the same offense. This one is hard for me to understand because our culture in this world lives by the “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me” motto. Now I know that whenever you have to forgive someone for hurting you, some trust is lost and might never fully come back. This is human and that’s why the phrase “forgive and forget” never made sense to me. I can’t forget some things even if I forgive. Jesus answers this question perfectly in Matthew 18:21-22. It says “Then Peter (a disciple or follower of Jesus) came to Jesus and asked, “Lord how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”” Wow, now most people would never forgive someone seven times in a row. That’s a lot on it’s own! But seventy-seven times? That’s crazy to most people but Jesus says this number to show us that we must constantly forgive if we want to be forgiven ourselves. (Read the rest of that chapter for a great parable or example about forgiveness)
So why should we forgive. There are two reasons and they are both very important. The first one is that we are commanded to forgive others and if we don’t, our own soul is in jeopardy. There is a quote by Buddha (not Buddhist but it applies here) that says:
When you are holding a grudge you are allowing that person’ sin to get inside your head when they might have already moved on and don’t even care about it. You are destroying yourself for no reason. I have had someone hurt me before and it poisoned my heart for years. I like this quote too:
I read that forgiving someone doesn’t make what they did OK. It just prevents it from destroying your heart. Matthew 6:15 says “But if you don’t forgive others their sins,your Father will not forgive yours.” That is reason enough for me!
This is the ultimate question. How do you forgive others when they have hurt you or someone you love? This is probably different for every person and some people I believe have a bigger capacity to forgive than others. There are two suggestions that I find helpful when I try to move on from pain.
The first suggestion is to remember a time when you were in need of forgiveness. How did you feel? Were you remorseful? Did you feel desperate for that person to talk to you again? I have unfortunately felt this way before and it was one of the most terrible feelings I have ever had. My big mouth had gotten me in trouble. I apologized but still couldn’t shake the feelings of guilt. Now imagine I had not been forgiven by the other person. They set me free from my pain and guilt. Sometimes your relationship will never be the same but don’t imprison someone in guilt just because you can’t let go. Forgiveness frees both parties from the hurt.
The last thing I want to say about how to forgive is to think about how Jesus told us to forgive in Matthew 6:12. He said “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” We are going to be forgiven according to how we forgive others. That can be a very scary statement if you hold grudges and never let things go. It can be a very encouraging statement if you forgive regularly. The choice is yours. I don’t know about you, but I want to be forgive seventy-seven times and more!