In my last essay, I wrote about the importance of forgiveness. We are called to never stop forgiving those who have hurt us. But I would like to take time in this article to talk about the benefit to the self that can be found in forgiving others.
When someone hurts us, whether they mean to or not, the wound in the heart is very real. Very quickly that pain can turn to rage and resentment. This is like the infection that comes after the injury which, in some ways, is worse. It can consume the mind and the heart. And, let’s be honest, there is a pleasure in that rage, a righteous anger of one who is wronged that can let loose all the pent-up venom and bile against someone we think deserves it. But like any infection, that fever can destroy us.
Rage and peace cannot co-exist in the soul. To be clear, we should have a healthy anger at injustice, at sin, and at all the evils of the world, just as Christ did. But we human beings have such a hard time separating the sin from the sinner. When we look at our brothers and sisters with anger, especially when we nurture that anger, peace can have no place in us. That is where the balm of forgiveness enters.
Forgiveness isn’t just for the person being forgiven. It is for the one who forgives. And in some ways, it is even better for the one who forgives. Jesus said, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Heavenly Father will not forgive your sins.” Matthew 6:14-15.The only way that we can receive forgiveness from God is if we are willing to forgive others. How could we possibly withhold forgiveness from those who have hurt us when we think about how we hurt Christ? My sins put him on the cross. No one has ever betrayed me to that kind of death. If Christ is willing to forgive me for that, how petty must I be to not forgive others.
But this is not simply a matter of external reward or some kind of economic transaction. That would reduce forgiveness to something the Pharisees would do. Forgiveness is all about relationship and the human heart. The reward of forgiveness is not simply external, it’s internal. The rage and the anger that infects us can only be cured by the antidote of forgiveness. It is Christ’s medicine for the soul. It is the gentle coolness that puts out this scorching fire in the heart. That is why, of the few things Jesus said from the cross, He shouted, “Father, forgive them! They know not what they do!” Luke 23:34.
When we make the real choice to forgive, the rage that burns us is extinguished, and the healing can begin. When you’re seething in anger, you can’t see beyond your own pain. All you can see is the hurt that is being caused.
I am surrounded by many amazing friends. But that doesn’t change the fact that sometimes we hurt each other, and that hurt is deep. I’ve had some of my closest friends betray secrets, bully me, and break my heart. To give you a simple story from my youth, I had a secret crush on a girl. I was terrified to ever let her know. But when I finally had the courage to share my feelings, I found out I was already beaten to the punch by one of my best friends. Like any youthful heartbreak, I was despondent, particularly because I was betrayed. I could have ended that friendship right there; instead, I decided to tell my friend how much what he did hurt, but that I forgave him. To this day, he is one of my best friends.
Now that is a small matter. But so much of our lives are made up of those things: small hurts that can fester into large grudges. If I had not forgiven, two things would have happened: all of my memories of this man would be tainted with anger, and I would have closed myself off to one of the most rewarding friendships of my life.
When people hurt us, as I said earlier, our hearts are wounded. You then have a choice: forgive, and heal the wound, or harden your heart to prevent it from getting hurt again. Sadly, I’ve seen the latter occur more often than I would like. And it is very difficult to speak to someone about forgiving because forgiveness means you need to be open to pain. There is a numbness in rage that prevents you from feeling that pain.
Very recently, someone I love dearly hurt me. I can’t speak about the specifics here. I am not an angry person. But I can tell you that the very thought of this person and what they did would set my blood boiling. I would suddenly realize that my hands were hurting and I would look down and notice that they had inadvertently been clenched in fists of rage. To make matters worse, this person shows not one single ounce of remorse or contrition. Some of their words are like daggers in me.
So what do I do?
I do what Christ commanded: I forgive. The choice was very simple. The situation is still incredibly complicated, but choosing forgiveness has been wonderful. So much of the tension, anxiety, frustration and stress has melted away because I made the choice to forgive. I cannot control whether this person’s heart will be softened or hardened. All I can control is how much I love and forgive them.
One of the most beautiful things Shakespeare ever wrote was in his play, The Merchant of Venice. “The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from Heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed: it blesseth him that gives and him that takes…it is an attribute to God Himself.”
That last line is important in many ways. But it is a reminder that forgiveness is Divine. We need God’s help to forgive others.
Who have you not forgiven in your life? Does it seem impossible to you? A man was once nailed to a cross and as His torturers were killing him, He freely offered them forgiveness. Christ offers forgiveness as a gift. When you forgive others, that is also Christ’s gift to you. Let Him remove those chains that have been binding you. Let Him change your heart. Let go of all that rage. Ask Him to help, and He will.
Anger and rage are a prison. They are a foretaste of the vicious fires of hell.
And the only true freedom is the freedom of forgiveness.
Copyright 2019, WL Grayson
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