“To err is human; to forgive, divine” (Alexander Pope). This sounds good in theory, but what about serious trespasses? Can we learn how to forgive those?
Forgiving someone who has hurt or offended us is not the natural human reaction. The natural reaction is to harbor resentment and, sometimes, to try to get even. But learning how to forgive is not only the right thing to do, it is the healthy thing to do. It is also difficult in many cases.
Forgiving someone else boils down to a choice for each of us. Actually choosing to forgive others can be a very challenging thing to do, and it requires thought about some basic concepts. The following ideas can help you learn how to forgive.
Forgiving helps to heal our own human emotions
Forgiving others does not just help to heal their emotional wounds. It helps you in healing yours. According to an article on the Mayo Clinic website, the following benefits can be reaped through forgiveness:
“Letting go of grudges and bitterness can make way for compassion, kindness and peace. Forgiveness can lead to:
Greater spiritual and psychological well-being
Less anxiety, stress and hostility
Lower blood pressure
Fewer symptoms of depression
Lower risk of alcohol and substance abuse.”
Letting go of old resentments and ill will frees you mentally to go on with your life, embracing positive emotions and experiences.
Realize that forgiving does not mean that injustice will go unpunished
Forgiving is not synonymous with excusing wrong or hurtful actions on the part of others, and it does not mean that injustice will go unpunished forever. God is the One who ultimately decides what is fair and when justice will be done.
Consider this statement from 2 Corinthians 5:10: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”
In the short term, things often seem unfair. The old saying “cheaters never prosper” often does not ring true when we observe the actions of others around us. And when people do us wrong, God does not want us to take vengeance or retribution on them.
Notice the instruction Paul gave us in Romans 12:18-19: “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.”
The fact is that God is patient and does not mete out punishment the instant a wrong is done. Note this statement from Matthew 5:45: “That you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”
In His own time and manner, God will righteously judge all for their actions. When we choose to forgive another person, it does not condone wrong or hurtful actions, it just means that we have chosen to let go, move on with our lives and leave things in God’s hands.
Learning how to forgive is the right thing to do
Jesus Christ’s teachings constantly point us toward forgiving others for their offenses against us. When Peter asked how many times he should forgive someone, he asked if he should forgive seven times. Presumably Peter may have thought that number was more than adequate.
Christ responded by telling Peter to forgive “seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:21-22). The clear principle is that we should be willing to go on forgiving, and that there are no limits on how many times we should forgive.
In another passage, Christ gave the parable of the unforgiving servant. The account is found in Matthew 18:23-35. In the parable, there is a servant who is unable to repay a very large debt, so his master commands that he be sold into slavery, along with his family, in order to repay it. The servant begs for mercy and receives it (verses 23-27). Upon being forgiven, however, the servant goes out to ruthlessly collect much smaller debts owed to him, showing no mercy at all (verses 28-31).
Christ gave His own sinless life to forgive our sins! And while He was dying at the hands of His persecutors, He cried out to the Father asking Him to “forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”In verses 32-33, the master pronounces his judgment on this servant who didn’t learn how to forgive: “Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?”’ The master then had him delivered to “the torturers” until all his debts could be paid.
Jesus Christ’s example of forgiving
Christ gave His own sinless life to forgive our sins! And while He was dying at the hands of His persecutors, He cried out to the Father asking Him to “forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” This was a profound statement and example for all of us!
Many times, people cause harm without really thinking or knowing it was wrong. If a person really knew it was wrong to cause offense, he or she would have most likely not committed the act.
Notice what Paul wrote to the Corinthians after Christ’s resurrection: “But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians 2:7-8).
The truth of God is hidden from most people today, and the values and morals of God are not understood by most. So, a very important step in the forgiveness process is to follow Christ’s example: “Forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”
Ephesians 4:31-32 summarizes this very well: “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.”
Realize that harboring anger and resentment can destroy you
Here is another quote from the Mayo Clinic website about the destructiveness of harboring anger and refusing to forgive:
“If you’re unforgiving, you might pay the price repeatedly by bringing anger and bitterness into every relationship and new experience. Your life might become so wrapped up in the wrong that you can’t enjoy the present.”
Paul tells us in the book of Ephesians that anger can give Satan a chance to work on our minds if we do not forgive and let go:
“‘Be angry, and do not sin’: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil” (Ephesians 4:25-26). Paul is quoting from Psalm 4:4 in this passage: “Be angry, and do not sin. Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still.” Do not let anger control you!
The healthy mind chooses to let go of negative emotions and anger.
Choose to forgive!
Forgiving comes down to a matter of personal choice. Many people choose not to forgive because they have the feeling that the wrongdoing will go unpunished or because an injustice will never be righted if something is not done about it.
In fact, if you refuse to forgive and move on, you may actually punish yourself more than what the offending party has done to you. Consider the benefits and positive outcomes described above, and do yourself a favor. Choose to forgive!