Forgiveness, in one sense, seems plain and straightforward. Somebody hurts you and you forgive them. This isn’t so much about how we ‘feel’ – it’s about an act of the will, a decision not to hold it against them.
Some blessed people find it very easy to forgive. They have a sunny disposition and move on immediately, and treat that person just the same when they meet them again.
For others though, if they decide they want to forgive, it can be a long, slow and painful process. This is not because they don’t want to forgive, but the hurt goes deep and often affects other people too, and it gets muddly, and there is often a great deal of anger involved.
In my view, true forgiveness is usually a process, a journey, which takes time. There are all sorts of things going on – not just the decision to forgive, but also time to own and attend to one’s anger, time to receive healing from hurt, time to work out how to show love to the person who has done the dirty on you.
The Christian understanding is also about letting go, about releasing and being released. I know there are blog friends out there who would say the same, whether Christian or not: by hanging on to resentment, we are not only continuing to bind the other person, we are also binding and damaging ourselves. To forgive is somehow to push a ‘release’ lever – release for them, and release for ourselves.
What we often don’t realise is that forgiveness can be painful. It’s neither easy nor ‘nice’. It is costly.
I have a dear friend who has lived for many years in an emotional situation which I would find impossible. She forgives over and over again despite the continuing assaults on her love. I was very moved with this, which she’s written about forgiveness:
“We need to separate the saving forgiveness of God, which requires a repentance, from the Christian imperative to forgive each other. This is between me and God and is about my relationship with God, it therefore does not require a repentance, but neither can it save another – that is between them and God.
So – the Master and the two servants. The first servant owes the Master £5 million pounds. He goes to the Master and begs him for more time, and incredibly this Master says, actually I’m forgiving the debt. It now no longer exists. That’s an incredible thing. It no longer exists, the past is changed. Extraordinary isn’t it that this Servant goes off and says to a guy, you owe me £5000 pay it immediately or I will ruin you…
… now the interesting thing is that the Master gets involved and takes action – that is why I believe that our forgiveness of each other is about our relationship with the Master. It’s what the forgiveness, or lack of it, does to us. I’ve just been rummaging around trying to find the most incredible forgiveness prayer left by someone at Auschwitz. Indeed, the OT is full of the forgiveness of God of His people, but I can’t remember any teaching on the forgiveness of each other … ?
Trouble is, as the disciples point out, that if the someone continues to do the same hurt time and time again one could get a bit battle weary. But again, Jesus’s teaching is – your forgiveness is about your relationship with me, not your relationship with each other, so you just have to go on saying “I forgive…” “
Here is the prayer she couldn’t find, which was discovered on the body of a woman at Auschwitz:
Remember not only
The men and women of good will.
But also those of evil will.
And in remembering
The suffering they inflicted upon us,
Honor the fruits we have borne
Thanks to this suffering — our comradeship, our humility
Our compassion, our courage, our generosity, the greatness of heart
That has grown out of all this;
And when they come to the judgment,
Let all the fruits
That we have borne
Be their forgiveness.