Forgiveness: The Power That Heals
Furthermore, an unforgiving attitude is destructive to personal relationships. It goes without saying that many close relationships, especially marriage relationships, are destroyed not so much by what has been done but by what hasn't been done—forgiving one another.
Wherever I fail to forgive another, a wall of resentment builds up between us and eventually we become estranged. But once I forgive, feelings of love can be restored if that is appropriate. I say "if that is appropriate" because there are times, such as in cases of abuse or a lack of repentance, when forgiveness should not lead to restoration of the relationship.
However, forgiveness needs to be genuine and not just a religious or sentimental act because it is "the right thing to do." If our forgiveness isn't genuine, resentment will poke its ugly head out at the most unexpected times—like when a couple get into an argument, they start dragging up events from the past that they still feel resentful about. Obviously those things haven't been forgiven. Forgiveness may not forget the past but it can bury it.
Forgiveness can be very difficult if we have been hurt deeply but how do we forgive someone when he doesn't even feel he has wronged us?
According to one author, Susan Jacoby, we can't. She feels that "real forgiveness cannot take place without an acknowledgment of wrongdoing on the part of the person who is chiefly responsible for causing pain."3
If this is so, some of us are going to carry grudges for a long, long time. True, when a person acknowledges his wrongdoing, that certainly makes forgiveness easier. But when he doesn't, which is often the case, forgiveness becomes a choice. We can choose to forgive or not to forgive.
How do we forgive someone when he
doesn't even feel he has wronged us?
We need to realize, however, that forgiveness is essential perhaps not so much for the wrong that has happened to us, but because of our resentment towards the one who has wronged us. Lack of forgiveness is caused by this resentment—a mixture of hurt and anger. Therefore, to forgive genuinely, one needs to face and deal with his hurt and anger.
To resolve our hurt and anger, we need to be totally honest and admit exactly how we feel. Then we need to get these feelings off our chest-not by lashing out and hurting the other person, but by "speaking the truth in love,"4 or by writing out our feelings until they are completely dissipated.
To forgive another, however, is not to ignore justice. Pope John Paul forgave his would-be-assassin, but the man stayed in prison, and rightly so. And where we want others to forgive us, if we are genuine, we will want to do all in our power to make a just restitution.
When God forgives us, he does so on the basis of both his justice and his love. His justice required a just sentence and confirmed death as the penalty or price of man's sin. But his love paid that price when he gave his Son, Jesus Christ to die on the cross in our place as the just retribution for our sins and wrongs. Therefore, God can freely forgive us and not in any way violate his divine justice.
The important thing is that we respond to God's love and forgiveness by acknowledging our sin and wrongdoing and accepting his free pardon. And then, in appreciation to God for his forgiveness of us, let us freely forgive other as we ourselves have been so freely forgiven.5
Forgiveness frees and heals the forgiver. Have you been freed?
For further help be sure to read, "How to Be Sure You're a Real Christian" at: http://tinyurl.com/real-christian, or click on the "Find Peace With God" or the "Know God" link below.
1. Time, Jan. 9, 1984. 2. Matthew 6:14-15, (NIV). 3. McCall's, 1983.
4. Ephesians 4:15. 5. Colossians 3:12-13.
5. All articles on the ACTS International website are by Richard (Dick) Innes unless otherwise noted.
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