I often find myself struggling with whole forgiveness thing. I have a hard time with it all around. First of all there is the receiving. I don’t know if it’s a self-esteem issue but I have trouble actually feeling as if I am forgiven. When others forgive me for something I doubt their sincerity. I feel as if that is just something they are expected to say, but deep down, or in the dead of the night, they are still thinking about how bad of a person I am, or they are still mad, or hurt. When I hear stories of people forgiving someone for things like rape or murder I find myself having serious doubt. Those are terrible things, it almost makes me angry. “Don’t forgive that person,” I think, “let that person rot, let us direct our anger and hate filled emotions toward them until they burst into flames!” And then of course because I am the queen of geeks I picture Emperor Palpatine as the perfect picture of Satan, saying “Yes YES! Let the hate flow through you!” And then I feel like crap. I don’t want to be on the dark side…I want a green lightsaber. Yet still I struggle, giving and receiving.
Don’t get me wrong I am not projecting any of this on to any of you or claiming your forgiveness is false, or that you shouldn’t forgive. I am talking about my own struggles which led me to ponder forgiveness in depth, the hows, the whys, the giving, and the receiving. Wikipedia (terrible source I know), defines forgiveness as the “intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, lets go of the negative emotions such as revenge, with an increased ability to with the offender well.” Ouch! Not only do I have to give up my revenge, but I have to wish them well!! Why in the world would God want me to do that!? I know the short answer of course is because He does it for us, and in order to do it He made a huge sacrifice and so did His son. I am in no way saying that answer isn’t enough. It is. All I have to do is picture Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, or being beaten, or on the cross, any of those images bring such emotion on my heart that I am ready to run out and do whatever it takes to be deserving of such a sacrifice. Problem is, I can’t be deserving, and forgiveness is hard. Yet still He asks, and in no uncertain terms tells us if we want it we have to give it.
So that leads me back to the receiving. If you want to receive you must give, but so amazing how God works because when offering forgiveness, I begin to see that it’s possible to be forgiven, so that in giving I receive. It’s like this perfect little circle of give and take. Cool how God works like that huh? Still it’s challenging…in my insolence I think, of course God can forgive, He knows every little thing about us, He knows what incident from my eighth year causes me to instinctively respond negatively to a certain situation now, even though I may have no clue, I just know when it happens I feel the need to act like an idiot. He knows it all. He knows why a killer kills, why a robber steals, He knows why the person in front of you drives crazy, He knows why the BMV lady wants to make your life miserable, He knows why your kids father is such a jerk, He knows why your husband’s ex-wife is a bad person. He knows the root of every sin any of us have ever committed, and even though we are still responsible for the actions of those sins, His heart is softened because of the imperfect circle of give and take sin creates, and His understanding of it all. That makes it easy for Him, why, if I knew all that I could do it too….but I don’t so why does He want me to.
The answer I found at the end of a lot of prayer? Like most anything else He asks us to do….it’s not really for Him…it’s for us. After all, who does unforgivness hurt? Who does it keep awake at night? Who does it give stomach cramps, and irritability and urges to self-medicate…not Him, and not the person who is unforgiven. All that stuff happens to the person who refuses to forgive. I can hear my brain protest even as I write this “yes but they don’t even ask, and they keep doing the same thing, they never change, they are never punished…”, and I must force myself to remember what else He said. He said you aren’t the judge (Luke 6:37 paraphrased), He said how can you pray to me when holding grudges against your brother, (Mat 5-23 para), He said let He who without sin cast the first stone, (John 8:7). Also of course the ever famous how many times do I have to forgive? Seven times seventy-seven, (Mat 18:21-22 para), because He knows us! This is so perfect to me because often I will think I am fine with something, over it, I have forgiven this person, then I will have a bad day and think of it, and like that I am right where I started! The person didn’t even do anything new to me, Satan just picked the perfect time to throw up some old stuff and rile up some demons. So keep doing it over and over. Even if the person keeps on committing the sin, or if your brain is like mine and tries to be like “hey know what we haven’t been mad about in a while?” just to, you know, shake up the day. One last reason I think it’s important to forgive, even when people don’t ask, or want it, or won’t change….love. In my experience people like that need love the most. People like that are the ones like me who think they don’t deserve it, so they don’t even bother to ask. All they know is sorrow and forgiveness is a foreign concept. “If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you to some extent, not to put it to severely. The majority is sufficient. Now instead you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you therefore reaffirm your love for him!” (2 Cor 2:5-8 emphasis added). Think how far a little forgiveness may go for someone like that, and even if not, at least you tried, and hopefully that will make your pillow at least a little bit softer. I know it will make your Father very proud.