The most fundamental of questions, it seems to me, is whether or not there is a God or gods. I cannot prove the existence of God in a scientific sense. I can, however, offer a great deal of evidence that would, I think, lead most open-minded people to conclude that the answer is affirmative.
That, however, only gets us part way. If there is a God, what is God like? There have been multiplicities of answers historically involving (among other things) polytheism, pantheism, and monotheism. As I listen to the stories and life histories of people nearing the end of life, various images of god emerge.
Some describe the distant, uninvolved, aloof god of the Deists. Echoing Thomas Jefferson and the Enlightenment philosophers, they essentially believe in a god who created everything, set things in motion, and is subsequently detached. This is a watchmaker god – a being who made the complex “watch” we call the universe, which in turn runs on its own. Those who embrace a belief in this sort of deity find little comfort or hope.
Some of my Calvinist friends take an opposite view. For them, God is controlling everything; God is a micromanager; the universe is deterministic; freewill is nonexistent. I hear echoes of that view when people tell me “God is in control,” or “God knows what he is doing,” or “God never makes a mistake” in response to tragedy, sickness or evil. For them, God causes everything, which in my mind makes god a monster to have caused the genocide of indigenous people, the Holocaust, and chattel slavery.
Still others imagine what C.S. Lewis described as a doting grandpa god – the god of Joel Osteen, the god who gives you your best life now, the deity who dotes on you and is there to fulfill your every whim. This god demands nothing and is happy if we are happy. Consumerism, indulgence, wealth – it is all yours.
Quite often, I hear reverberations of god as demanding judge – the divine being who is exasperated with me, often disgusted by me, and may likely cast me off forever in a blaze of holy indignation.
Then, there is the nationalistic warrior god – the god who gave Americans the right to own assault weapons, high capacity magazines, and carry concealed weapons; the god who wants to make America great again, who supports capitalism, libertarianism, “our troops,” institutionalized racism, and patriarchal dominance. God, guns, guts and glory!
All of these “gods” can be found in scripture passages – isolated verses can be cobbled together to picture a distant god, a demanding god, a doting grandpa god, a controlling deterministic god, or a nationalist-warrior god.
The author of the New Testament book of Hebrews tell us that in the past, God spoke through prophets and priests, but now has revealed Godself through Jesus. The Apostle John said he and his companions had seen, heard, and handled the divine Logos made flesh. Jesus said. “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father;” and “I and the Father are one.”
God is exactly like Jesus and there is noting unchristlike in God. God looks like Jesus. God is cruciform.
So, what is God like?
Certainly not distant or aloof; instead, intimately involved touching lepers, healing, encouraging, teaching, actively involved in creation, caring deeply about anything that harms or hurts people.
God is not deterministically controlling, but rather refusing to coerce, encouraging free moral agency, respecting individuality, allowing people to make poor choices.
God is blazing out against those who oppress the poor, the marginalized, who condescendingly judge others, despise the immigrants, seek to dominate others – not a doting grandpa by any means.
Nor do we see a demanding judge, but instead one who welcomes sinners, hangs out with tax collectors and prostitutes, and loves to the uttermost.
God is not the warrior god of nationalism. Jesus is nonviolent, anti-war, anti-capital punishment, anti-Empire.
God is exactly like Jesus. He forgives his enemies while they are crucifying him; he healed his enemies when they were injured while attacking him; he forgives infinitely; promises to never leave or forsake us; is with us always, patiently infusing us with divine love.
The great missionary and linguist Frank Laubach practiced with a few friends reading the Gospels by changing the tense from third to first, as if Jesus was speaking directly to us. Laubach invites us to imagine Jesus walking at our sides through the day and our carrying on a running conversation with him. Like Brother Lawrence, he invites us to practice being consciously aware of the presence of Jesus throughout our daily lives.
Famously, in Matthew 7:13 & 14, Jesus says, as part of His Sermon on the Mount: “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (NRSV)
Just as famously, the passage is interpreted among evangelicals to refer to where a person goes when she dies. That interpretation is so common that that reconsidering it feels like heresy. But, where you go when you die is not what Jesus is talking about.
Not that where you go when you die is unimportant: Jesus tells us frankly that He is going to prepare a place for us so that we may be with Him forever (John 14:1-3); the Apostle Paul tell us in 2 Corinthians 5:1-10 that when we are absent from these earthly bodies, we will be present with Lord. The moment we die, the very instant, we are simultaneously with the Lord. The material flesh and blood body is left behind and, according to 1 Corinthians 15, will be physically resurrected at the time of Christ’s appearing. That is wonderful news, but it is not what Jesus is talking about in the Sermon on the Mount.
The subject, the mega-theme of the Sermon on the Mount, is the Kingdom of Heaven (also called the Kingdom of God). Jesus is the King of all kings and came to establish a new kind of kingdom, radically different from the empires the world has known. King Jesus said that His Kingdom is right here, right now, in our midst (Luke 17:21). Wherever people are faithfully following the King, there is the Kingdom. The subjects of King Jesus’ Kingdom are those who have pledged their allegiance to Him (and renounced allegiance to all others – you can’t serve God and mammon).
Martin Luther King, Jr. referred to the Kingdom of God as “the beloved community,” a phrase likely derived from one of his primary mentors, Detrick Bonhoeffer, who called it “the community of prayerful love.”
Both the entire Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), and the Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6) describe what this Kingdom looks like. It has no military forces; it never utilizes coercion; it does not seek to control or dominate or win. Instead, in this Kingdom, people turn the other cheek, go the second mile, forgive infinitely, love like God loves but never try to judge as only God can judge, give generously, and care for the marginalized. In this Kingdom, hatred is met with love, anger with gentleness, injustice with nonviolent resistance, violence with peace, and offence with forgiveness.
Participating in this Kingdom brings actualization, shalom, wholeness, fullness of life, fulfillment of purpose, unshakable joy, and peace that surpasses our ability to even understand it. Participating in this Kingdom brings a love so unfathomable, unbreakable, and ineffable that it seems too good to be true.
But, how do we get on the road that leads us into this new Kingdom?
We must enter by the narrow gate. That road leads us to this Kingdom.
There is another gate – it is wide, easily accessible, and taken by most people. That wide road is the water in which we swim. It is life as we know it, where we look out for ourselves, defend what is dear to us with violence, and gain as much material prosperity as possible. It leads, ultimately, to spiritual emptiness, to a loss of our true selves.
The narrow gate is obedience to Jesus, not doctrine. Many have had impeccable doctrine coupled with lives manifesting hatred, violence, and injustice. Obedience is doing what Jesus said to do. It is living as if Jesus really meant it when He said to love our enemies, take the role of servants, stand against injustice, and spread shalom to all. It means being a red-letter Christian, prioritizing the words of Jesus, which are in some Bibles highlighted in red.
Very few people do what Jesus said to do. Very few Christians even try to live by the sermons on the mount and plain. Instead, they seek political power, promote nationalism, patriotism and war, equate the gospel with material prosperity, and cover racism, homophobia, misogyny, and xenophobia with Bible verses taken out of context. It is only natural that they do so. I did so for most of my adult life.
The way of the Kingdom seems absurd. If you give away everything, how will you make it? If you love your enemies, won’t they take over your country? If you’re always a servant, how can you advance your career or grow your business? The Kingdom of God is subversive, counterintuitive, reckless.
So, if I can only get on the road to this new way of living, this Kingdom of God by doing what Jesus says to do, from where do I find the courage to obey?
The answer, I think, is four-fold:
First, we pledge our allegiance to the King of Kings and Lord of lords and to Him alone.
Second, we take time every day to be with Him in order to learn from Him how to be like Him. The more we gaze into His Person, the more convinced we become of His infinite beauty, unchanging love, invariable compassion, and infinite capacity to forgive. We are changed from glory to glory into His image (2 Corinthians 3:18). We do this via prayer, contemplation, Lectio Divina, silence, meditation, and deep contemplation on Scripture (all of which points to Jesus).
Third, we must be empowered, enabled to obey by a continual infilling of the Holy Spirit. We need to be engulfed, immersed, submerged and saturated with the Divine Spirit of God. (Ephesians 5:18, 19) Jesus is the baptizer in the Holy Spirit who will give His Spirit to those who ask. (Luke 11:13; Luke 3:16)
And, finally, we need each other. Maybe there have been a few outstanding followers of Jesus who could obey these red-letters on their own, but I’m not one of them. I’m too afraid, too timid, too ready to halt. I need the strength and courage of community. I need to do life with people who want with all their hearts to take the narrow road. I need the beloved community, the community of prayerful love
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Marvelous inspiring stories abound about forgiveness – the Amish in Nickel Mines, Corrie ten Boom with her Nazi captors, countless African-Americans forgiving everything from slavery to Jim Crow to mass incarceration – and, of course, the ultimate act of forgiveness – God forgiving those committing deicide from the cross.
Our last essay dealt with how to forgive those who have sinned against us.
But, what about the other side of the coin?
Suppose you are the one needing forgiveness.
What if you are the one whose unfaithfulness caused the divorce that deeply hurt your spouse and children?
What if you are the boss who unjustly fired employees?
The businessperson who cheated your partners?
The chronic liar, embezzler, manipulator?
What if you were the drunk driver who killed those children?
And, more broadly, how do I repent of being a white male who has benefitted from a racialized culture and whose ancestors may have contributed to the genocide of Native peoples and the enslavement of Africans?
A common default response (in me anyway) is denial. “I didn’t enslave anybody.” “I worked for everything I have.” “It was just business.” “My marriage was emotionally toxic.”
That sounds a lot like the Pharisee at prayer: “I thank You that I am not like others, especially this notorious sinful tax collector here.”
But, the opposite response is not helpful either – the response that sinks into guilt and shame.
It seems that often those who should feel guilty don’t, and those who should feel free and forgiven feel guilty.
The first thing that occurs to me is that removing the log from my own eye is really a good thing to do. That thing hurts. It feels good to get rid of it. Why am I so afraid of repentance?
How can I repent without making the repentance all about me, my shame, my failure, my guilt?
I’ve had trees in my eyes so long, I’m used to them. They feel normal.
I have to come into the light. The light of Jesus (who is the light of the world).
There, I see that I am the perpetrator, the culprit, the offender, the wrongdoer.
I caused the divorce, the car wreck, the personal economic crisis. I am the one who has not been faithful in the little things, the one who squandered the master’s silver.
I have benefitted just because I am melanin-challenged. I have laughed at and passed on racist jokes, condemned those different than I am, supported military might, and bypassed the homeless.
I have accepted theological paradigms that enabled me to skillfully ignore Jesus’ plain teachings.
I am not the innocent victim. I’m more the problem than the solution.
How do I find forgiveness?
I do not know, but I think:
- I need you. I need community; genuine, authentic community of faith. Community will give me courage to repent while still being loved. But, how do I find that community?
- I need to be honest with God.
- I need to make restitution if possible, to ask others for their forgiveness.
What do you think? Can you help me and others like me?
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My son Elliott committed suicide when he was in high school.
After his death, church people told me he was in hell because of the way he died. Others told me I lacked faith because I cried at his funeral. Still others said God was punishing me for my sins. Rumors and slander ripped through the town.
How can I forgive my son for killing himself? How can I forgive the cruel things people said to and about me?
How can an abused child forgive the stepfather who assaulted her?
How does a 62-year-old forgive the corporation that fired him without cause?
Can a survivor of the killing fields forgive the Khmer Rouge?
Can a Native American forgive the illegal immigrants who stole his land and destroyed his nation and culture?
Does anyone have the right to demand that an African-American forgive those who enslaved her ancestors?
How about the victim of human trafficking, the sex slave, the child soldier, or the sweatshop worker?
Can a parent forgive the person who murdered her son?
How does a woman forgive her rapist?
How does the husband forgive his cheating spouse?
Why should a businessperson forgive the people who cheated her out of her intellectual property?
Must we forgive?
Can we forgive?
Should we even try to forgive?
Are there not some things that are simply unforgivable?
Personally, I don’t think I have any right to demand forgiveness from anyone.
I cannot tell the Jew to forgive the Nazi, or the slave to forgive the overseer, or the abused to forgive the perpetrator.
I am not the Jew, nor the slave, nor the victim of abuse.
But for me, as one who is trying to follow Jesus, forgiveness is not an option.
Jesus said, “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14,15)
I don’t think God wants me to forgive merely to test my obedience.
Instead, because God loves me, God wants what is best for me.
Forgiveness is psychologically healthy. Unforgiveness will eat us alive. It will poison our relationships, dehumanize us, make us unable to be fully human, fully alive. The psychological literature is filled with evidence.
Unforgiveness dumps chemicals into our blood streams that compromise our immune systems and make us vulnerable to illness.
The best thing we can do for ourselves is to forgive others.
Unforgiveness hurts us; it has no affect on the one who hurt us.
As a believer, the scripture I hold sacred indicates that it is God’s nature to forgive. With unforgiveness in my heart, my fellowship with God is disturbed. Forgiveness joins us to God’s nature, makes us more like God.
God commands me to forgive.
Daily, I pray, “Forgive us our trespasses (sins, debts) as (in the same manner in which) we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Peter, ever the impetuous representative for the apostles, most likely thought himself highly magnanimous when he asked Jesus (in Matthew 18): “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”
While secular society, then as now, teaches us to preemptively strike out and eliminate our enemies before they can harm us, the Hebrew Scriptures teach a limited vengeance principle. “[Only] an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” thus limiting revenge to justice.
That itself contradicts instinct – unbridled human nature would respond to a gouged out eye by killing the offender, and perhaps his family as well. The Older Testament, however, limited the natural inclination of revenge (which produces a never-ending cycle of violence) to justice – only one eye for an eye, only one tooth for a tooth.
Because of the influence of the Hebrew prophets, many of the rabbis of Peter’s time went beyond justice and taught that believers should freely forgive the same offense against them three times.
Few Christians today rise even to the older standard, much less to the rabbinical one.
How many of us would forgive someone who did the same evil thing to us three times?
Having just heard Jesus teach that His followers were to carefully attempt to win back an offending sister, Peter took the rabbinical standard, doubled it and added one, then asked: “Lord, how often shall my brother or sister sin against me, and I forgive them? Up to seven times?”
Rather than praise his magnanimity, however, Jesus responded (I imagine gently and with a smile), “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”
Jesus’ obvious point is that forgiveness must be unending and infinite – no one could possibly forgive another person (the same person each time) for the same offense 490 times without completely and eternally forgiving her.
Not only is forgiveness to be never ending, it is essential, and to prove its essential quality, Jesus told a story:
23 Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. 26 The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ 27 Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.
28 “But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ 30 And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. 31 So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. 32 Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. 33 Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ 34 And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. 35 “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.” [Matthew, chapter 18, The New King James Version, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers), c1982]
The lesson is clear and unmistakable – if we want God to forgive us, we must forgive others.
We owe God an enormous debt. God created and redeemed us at great cost. The ten thousand talents of verse 24 was the equivalent of millions of dollars, yet when the man could not pay his obligation, he was not simply given more time, the master discharged the debt entirely – it was forgiven, erased off the books, expunged from the ledger.
Later, when the man who had been so graciously forgiven was confronted by another who owed him the equivalent of 10 or 20 dollars, he refused to forgive, and took all the available legal avenues at his disposal to punish the man for his failure to meet his small obligation.
His act of unkindness and refusal to forgive was reported to the master, who then revoked his previous decision, and had the man cast in to prison. Lest we somehow miss the point, Jesus added: “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”
Forgiveness is vital for me as someone trying to follow Jesus because it opens up the channel for God to forgive me, and forgiveness from God is my fundamental and most basic need.
Forgiveness is essential because unless I forgive, unforgiveness and bitterness will eat away at my heart and destroy my character and essence as a human being.
Forgiveness is not optional because forgiveness is an essential characteristic of God, and I cannot fellowship with God without sharing that characteristic.
I feel I must forgive – but how do I do so?
Before answering that question, let’s first define what forgiveness is not.
Forgiveness is not to be wasted on everyday slights.
Some things do not need to be forgiven – they simply need to be ignored. We shouldn’t wear our feelings on our sleeves, nor go through life being offended at simple rudeness. I don’t need to forgive the rude clerk; I just need to forget it. As Lyndon Johnson said, “Sometimes you have to be a jackass in a hail storm — just hump over and take it.”
Forgiveness must be reserved for real sin; forgiveness is necessary when someone has truly hurt us, when they have really done something wrong.
When you have been fired from your job without sufficient cause, deserted by your spouse for another paramour, sexually assaulted, physically abused, severely neglected by a parent, deserted by a parent, blatantly cheated in a business deal, or jealously persecuted by a colleague, you have been sinned against. What Elliott did, and what some people said to me after his death, was sinful, wrong.
Forgiveness is not ignoring the wrong.
Some people, usually the peacemakers at all costs people, are too quick to say, “I forgive you, now drop it.” That is cheap; it accomplishes nothing other than whitewashing over the wrong.
Saying to ourselves, “Oh, well, he couldn’t help it,” or, “it doesn’t matter,” when you are really hurt is disingenuous to self and others.
Forgiveness is not making excuses for the wrong done to you.
Forgiveness is not blaming yourself for the wrongs another has done.
“It must be my fault he abandoned me,” is to take responsibility for the wrong decision of another and to simultaneously reinforce ones own low esteem.
It is not your fault that you were assaulted, abused, attacked, victimized, unprotected, slandered, abandoned, fired unjustly, cheated, lied to, taken advantage of, targeted by a criminal, or squeezed out of what was rightfully yours. Forgiveness is not blaming yourself for someone else’s evil.
Conversely, forgiveness cannot begin until we admit honestly and openly that we have indeed been wronged. What that other person did was wrong, it was sinful, and it was contrary to God’s will.
Too often we blame ourselves instead of the perpetrator – the abused child blames himself for the abuse, the battered spouse blames herself for her injuries, the abandoned spouse blames himself for the divorce, the cheated employee sinks into the conclusion that she is worthless.
When someone (or some corporation or institution) has done something evil that has adversely affected and hurt us, we must begin by admitting that it really was wrong and we really are hurt.
That is not to imply that we sometimes have some responsibility in the hurtful situation. Often, interpersonal conflict involves responsibility on both sides. The mature person learns from the mistakes of the past, owns what is rightfully hers, accepts responsibility, and seeks to change. She does not, however, take responsibility that is not rightfully hers.
Forgiveness involves the realization and admission that we are hurting. We are not forgiving others if we pretend we are not hurt by what they did to us. Saying, “It’s no big deal” is not being fully honest, and we must be fully honest before true forgiveness can occur. We must own the hurt.
In other words, we must admit openly that what happened to us was wrong, and that what the other person did to us or to our loved one hurt us deeply. When a drunk driver kills your child or your family is suffering because of an unscrupulous business deal, or you were a victim of child abuse or some other crime, you are hurting deeply inside.
Forgiveness is not making excuses for the wrong another person did to me.
Forgiveness is also not being naïve and putting self or loved ones in danger.
It is not being forgiving to live with an abuser; it is foolish. You can forgive a person while simultaneously keeping yourself and those you care about, especially your minor children, in a safe environment. You can forgive an unscrupulous businessperson, and simultaneously exercise wisdom and not do business with him in the future.
We are not to be judgmental in the sense of pronouncing final judgment on anyone – only God can do that – but we must be discerning – “wise as serpents, yet harmless as doves.”
Forgiveness is not a feeling; it is not an emotion. It has nothing to do with feeling warm and affectionate toward another person.
You will probably never feel warm and affectionate toward the drunk who killed your spouse, nor toward the corporation that used you and tossed you aside before retirement age, nor toward the criminal who attacked you.
Many of us never forgive because we are waiting to feel like forgiving.
Forgiveness is not a feeling – it is a decision – a conscious intellectual decision that you reiterate repeatedly by an act of your will.
Time will not automatically heal our inner wounds and produce forgiveness. Simply letting time go by does not produce forgiveness. The pain of the situation will probably fade with time, but deep within there will still be the bitterness.
Forgiveness is not forgetting.
It is humanly impossible to forget some things. Traumatic, hurtful events are seared into memory. Simply forgetting may be a defense mechanism or an effort at denial to avoid the painful hard work of forgiveness, and, where possible, reconciliation. The goal is not forgetfulness; it is forgiveness.
Finally, forgiveness must not be confused with reconciliation.
Some popular authors define forgiveness as reconciliation. But if genuine forgiveness always leads to reconciliation, then Jesus gave us an impossible task when he commanded us to forgive everyone.
Although it is usually God’s will that there be reconciliation, and reconciliation should be the goal toward which we strive, sometimes reconciliation is not possible, but we can still be forgiving.
Narcissists and sociopaths don’t care that they have hurt you and have no desire to take any responsibility. Others are mere objects to them.
Dead people can’t sit down with you and work out reconciliation.
A huge corporation will not likely apologize to you.
Reconciliation is not always possible because it requires assent by both parties. Sometimes, your efforts at reconciliation are rebuffed – the offending person does not want to be reconciled with you, and does not care whether she hurt you. But, you can still forgive her.
The person who hurt you may be dead. I cannot sit down and talk to Elliott face to face regarding his decision to kill himself, which hurt me deeply, but I can still forgive him.
Reconciliation should always be our ultimate goal as followers of Jesus.
In some instances, perhaps in most, I can seek reconciliation.
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” (Jesus — Matthew 5:23,24)
Nelson Mandela led an entire nation in forgiving those who had abused and suppressed them.
To bring about reconciliation, I go to the one who hurt me and openly, honestly, lovingly and without blame or accusations, confront them.
I explain what happened, I share the hurt I feel and I ask if we can reconcile.
In many cases, the offender apologizes, takes responsibility and makes a genuine effort to understand the pain he caused. At that point, the reconciliation process begins.
If the person with whom I am seeking to reconcile is my spouse, marital therapy can help us put our marriage back together.
If it is someone else, a psychotherapist can help.
I cannot reconcile with everyone, but I can forgive everyone.
So, how to I do it? How do I forgive? I am convinced that God wants me to be forgiving and that doing so is beneficial for my spiritual, mental and physical health.
I have found that it is usually helpful to begin by identifying specifically who hurt me. Sometimes that is obvious and easy. It is obvious for a rape victim to say, “I am hurting because I was sexually assaulted by a guy with a knife. He sinned against me; what he did to me was evil and wrong in God’s eyes; it is not my fault or responsibility; he’s the bad guy in this scenario, and I hurt deeply as a result.”
It is more difficult to pinpoint someone to forgive when a corporation or other impersonal entity has wronged you. Sometimes the system itself is racist or evil. In some instances, there may not be any face you can put with the blame, but it makes forgiveness a bit easier if you can.
It is also helpful in the process of forgiveness (and it is a process, usually a long one) if you can come to understand some of what motivated the action.
If you can realize that you were abused by someone who was himself abused, while not excusing his behavior (many people were abused yet never abuse others), it can make it easier for you to understand and forgive. Delve a bit into why the person who harmed you did so, not to excuse them, but to understand human weaknesses and human sinfulness, and therefore make forgiving a little easier for yourself.
Sometimes, however, that is not possible because the act against you was senseless and brutal and there is no discernible reason for it to have occurred.
So, then, if forgiveness is not reconciliation, not a feeling, not ignoring the hurt, and not making excuses for the sin of others, what is it?
Forgiveness is a decision – a cold, calculated, conscious intellectual decision that you reiterate by an act of your will.
You take responsibility for your failings; you clearly recognize the failings of those who hurt you.
Having admitted to yourself and others that you were wronged, and that you are deeply hurt as a result of being wronged, you begin the real and difficult work of forgiveness by making a conscious intellectual decision to forgive.
You say to yourself and God – “So and so sinned against me; what he did to me was wrong; as a result of what he did, I hurt deeply; but I choose right now by an act of my free will to forgive him.”
Then, and here’s the key, you repeat that decision out loud every time any ill feelings, any hurt, any anger, any sorrow comes into your mind over the situation.
As a Christ follower, I ask God to enable me to forgive by the power of the Holy Spirit. I do not believe I can forgive deep wrongs without God’s help.
Hundreds of times daily, each time the hurt feelings or the anger rise up in my emotions, I stop and say to God, “I choose to forgive Elliott for killing himself because God has forgiven me. God help me to forgive with all my heart for Jesus’ sake.”
Hundreds of times daily, each time the painful feelings arise, I repeat my decision to forgive for Jesus’ sake and ask God for help in doing so.
Asking God’s help is vital because there are many instances that we humanly cannot forgive without the supernatural assistance of God’s Holy Spirit to enable us.
How can a Holocaust survivor forgive the Nazi war machine that murdered her whole village including her entire extended family? I would answer that she cannot without the supernatural help of God. However, with that help, all things are possible, including forgiveness.
As I repeat the process of choosing to make the conscious intellectual decision to forgive, I ultimately discover that I am not as aware of the hurt as I once was.
Gradually what happened to me doesn’t bother me like it once did.
Eventually, I come to the place where I simply do not think about the bad thing that happened to me much at all – that bad thing is no longer controlling my life and influencing my daily thoughts.
I can never forget, but what happened no longer has power over me.
Eventually, I find myself spontaneously wishing the person who hurt me well.
When I find myself spontaneously wishing blessings upon those who did evil, I know that the long and difficult work of forgiveness is finally completed and I am free.
Free to fully love God.
Free to fully love myself.
Free to fully love others.
Free to fully love life.
I am, at last, fully human and fully alive.