By Sonja Schryvers
How desperately we need the forgiveness of God in our lives. I can think of errors of judgment that I have made and been so grateful for God’s forgiveness, allowing me to turn from that error and start afresh.
Yet when it comes to us forgiving others, we often come up against a brick wall. It seems such a hard ask sometimes, especially as the hurt can be so deep. Sometimes the offence from the other person is an outright act of defiance or a deliberate attempt to hurt us. But mostly the other person has little idea, that their actions or words have caused so much damage. Yet forgiving them seems like an impossible ask.
When Christ died on the cross, some of His dying words were, "Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing”. Luke 23 v 34. The last part of this verse often didn’t make complete sense to me. The part saying that "they do not know what they are doing”. The soldiers that had whipped Jesus forty times, placed a crown of thorns on his head, then nailed his hands and feet to a cross, were fully aware of their actions. How could Jesus say, "They didn’t know what they were doing?” But as I reflected on this verse I wondered if it didn’t mean so much the "act” of what they had just done, but ‘the pain and trauma of their actions” on Jesus. The soldiers could not feel, the physical or emotional pain of Jesus.
Jesus knew that all mankind’s sin was about to be unleashed on and in Him, to the point of separation from the Father, and a decent into hell itself. We will never know, experience or feel the anguish, pain and trauma that this caused Jesus. I wonder if in those words He was forgiving us all, for the price that He had to pay for our salvation. If I personally were to paraphrase those last words of Jesus, it may be something like this.
"Father, forgive all mankind, because not one of them will ever comprehend or understand the enormous pain, or anguish that is about to be unleashed on me, and all because of their sin, not mine”
Thank God that Jesus knew that this had to be so, and that awaiting Him was victory and glory. Jesus not only forgave them, but asked His Father to do the same.
I wonder if this is why we sometimes find it so hard to forgive others. As we are not only forgiving the "act,” of what happened but the flood of hurtful emotions that have come as a result of their actions or words. The difficult part is that these emotions are part of how God designed us. We were created emotionally complex. Yet we are told to forgive the person who caused a huge range of destructive emotions in us. It often seems that the perpetrator seems to get off lightly but the victim suffers for years.
It is a bit like someone throwing a stone into a crystal clear pond. They may have acted just once. Perhaps, they may have been the perpetrator of one act of sexual abuse. In their act, they had control just like throwing a stone into a placid pool. But, they were not aware that this one act caused dozens of ripples that go on through their victim’s life.
The Bible has so much to say about forgiveness. Forgiveness isn’t easy to grasp and even harder to apply. Consider, Luke 6 verse 37-38."Do not judge and you will not be judged. Do not condemn and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured to you.”
This verse is usually only ever read out during the offering. Yet nowhere is money mentioned. A closer look at this verse shows us that it is in fact talking more about the attitude of our heart. We are advised against judging or condemning and are urged to forgive. The giving and the measure being used are about the level of our attitudes. If we judge anyone, that measure of judgment will come back to us. If we condemn, then that measure will come back to you. With the measure we forgive, we will be forgiven. A generous attitude, receives generosity.
The preceding passages in Luke 6 verse 27-36 "Love your enemies”, highlights that those we need to love and forgive, are not those that we are currently in favour with.
Mathew 7 verse 1, is also very similar to Luke 6. In fact it uses the very same vocabulary "Do not judge or you too will be judged. For in the same way as you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
Another verse that highlights this is The Lords Prayer” Mathew 6 v 12, Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.
After my own search through Eastern religion and alternate spiritual cults, I once told someone that one of the reasons that I believed Christ was the way, was because it was often a difficult way. Being a Christian is no easy cushy way through life. Forgiveness is one of those hard parts of following Christ.
Being an ‘A’ type personality, my need to "have things right, do things right and be right” may seem great attributes as a high achiever.” But as a Christian these attributes can be a huge barrier. For me, it meant, I was always at odds with a sibling. They had hurt me so many times, often twisting the reality of events or words that had been spoken. My need to prove that I was right and had not deliberately caused any harm was my way of easing the pain. Yet one day the Holy Spirit spoke so powerfully to me. He said. "It is not about who is right or wrong. It is about "How much do you love”. I had spent all those years justifying my actions and words, feeling the ‘victim’, and therefore having a right to my reactions and had missed God’s plan of Love and Forgiveness.
You see forgiving someone is one of the greatest gifts you can give them. Right in the middle of the word forgiveness is the word GIVE. Even if they don’t know it, don’t want it and don’t deserve it, there is an added bonus that comes back to you. Forgiving them, is one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves. It releases us to love beyond the offence. I’m not saying this is always easy, but it is necessary. Depending on the circumstances it doesn’t mean allow the person to continue in their error, for example, physical or sexual abuse. But it does release you from the grip and destruction of unforgiveness. Sometimes this is a process and other times it is a divine event. God gives us his heart for the person, and miraculously, when we forgive, we no longer see them as the evil perpetrator, but have a supernatural love from God for them.
If others have caused me terrible pain due to their actions and words, (even if they were totally unaware of it) then chances are, that I have done the same. I have no doubt that I have hurt others. I sincerely hope that they have found it in their heart to forgive me.
I remember a quote from a book I had read about a Father speaking to his son. The Father said, "Before you hold a lifelong grudge for the errors and pain I may have caused you in bringing you up, just remember that one day, your son is going to have to forgive you for your errors as a father.”
Sometimes we need to forgive God, for the injustice of our situation. Not that He needs our forgiveness. But often we are angry that He has allowed the situation to happen. Why me? It’s not fair and I don’t deserve this injustice! This how we can question God as we react as humans. But they are ones that often will only have an answer in eternity. Maybe this is why the saying is so accurate. "To err is human, but to forgive is divine.” Other times we may even need to forgive ourselves. Our emotions, desires and thoughts can sometimes be a strong force to contend with.
-Would it make it easier for us to forgive others if we realised that the person who committed the offence is unaware of the pain they have caused us? As they "did not know what they were doing”.
-Would it make it easier to forgive others, knowing that we too have wronged and wounded people.
-Would it make it easier to forgive others if reminded ourselves of the continuing need for God to forgive us.
-Would it make it easier to forgive others if the extent that we forgave others was the same measuring rod that God will use in forgiving us.
Forgiveness will set us free from torment of the mind. When we refuse to forgive, we only poison ourselves. Does our holding on to unforgiveness hurt our abuser in anyway? They may not even be aware of our smoldering anger or hurt. It is us who continue to bare the pain. Forgive and let it go. God will see to it that there is justice in his time and in the meantime, you may find love for someone you once saw as your enemy. By forgiving them we are not allowing them to "get away with it". But we are allowing ourselves to "get away from" the destructive forces of unforgiveness. Unforgiviness robs us, not them.
Forgiveness is why Jesus died on the cross. To forgive us and give us His undying love.