On ForgivenessSeveral years ago, I lent a lot of money to a "friend" and after a few years of trying to get it back, it became apparent that I would never see a single red cent. I felt completely wronged by the situation and, mostly because of human nature, I got extremely bitter.
This anger lasted for years. If I even met somebody with that person's name, I instantly disliked him. When something would trigger the memory, I'd be in a bad mood for days, vowing to hold onto this grudge until I received proper compensation.
As a Christian, I struggled to understand why Christ taught us to forgive and love our enemies. I felt like I was a forgiving person, and would promptly forgive right after the apology. I was at least entitled to that much, right? Imagine my surprise when Christ taught us to forgive, regardless if the apology came or not:
But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you. And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloak forbid not to take thy coat also. Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again.And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them.And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same. And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again .But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. - Luke 6: 27 - 36 (emphasis added)
Peter asked Jesus how often forgiveness should be given. After all, forgiving others is a great virtue, but there must come a time when enough is enough, right? But Christ taught:
Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me,and I forgive him? till seven times?Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy time seven.- Matthew 18: 21 - 22 (emphasis added)My understanding is that seventy times seven does not mean you don't have to forgive 490 times. Seventy times seven is allegorical to saying unlimited. So, here Christ teaches us to forgive no matter how many times you are wronged.
To drive the point home, Jesus practiced what He taught. As He hung from the cross at the threshold of death, this was recorded as he looked upon the Roman soldiers:
Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them... - Luke 23: 46
Why Forgive?In Luke, it says that loving your enemy will return you great rewards. It doesn't say immediate blessings, so I've always assumed those rewards would come in the afterlife. However, there are some immediate blessings for those willing to forgive and love their enemies.
After seeing the destruction my feelings toward this "friend" was doing to my soul and the relationships I had in my life, I decided to forgive him, without reservation. It wasn't easy, after all, one does not cleanse oneself of years of poison with one treatment. It took a lot of scripture reading, prayer, and pondering, but one day I found that all of the contention and hatred in my heart left, allowing room for peace and an added measure of love to move into its place. I no longer let the situation decay me, and I believe I'm a better person for it. It has also built my faith in my Heavenly Father and that his commandments are meant to give us joy and growth.
Holding on to anger and resentment is a burden, while forgiveness leads to healing, joy, and love. Forgiving others does not validate their behavior, but it does prevent the potential destruction it can do to your soul. I'm reminded of a saying, usually attributed (incorrectly, apparently) to the Buddha:
Holing onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. - Anonymous
Other ExamplesI'm amazed at the forgiveness of Pope John-Paul II gave after getting show four times in his 1981 attempted assassination. However, the Pope asked people to pray for and forgive his attacker. When The Pope died in 2005, it is reported that the attacker and his family wept in mourning over his death. Personally, I find this a testament to a man of high character and strength.
There is a movie called Amish Grace, based on true-life events. It depicts how Charles Roberts went into an Amish community and shot 10 young women, killing 5 of them. A few hours later, some members of that community went to the wife of Charles Roberts and told her that they forgave Charles and they held no animosity against her family. This didn't happen years later. Not even months or a few days, but the afternoon of the shooting! Obviously, it didn't bring those girls back--what would?--but it started the healing process. Not only that, it has made me love and respect the Amish community for giving us a clear example of honestly forgiving those who do harm to you immediately.