The Challenging Task of Forgiving
Forgiveness is something I love to receive…but sometimes I have great difficulty giving it to others.
C.S. Lewis captured the essence of the problem well in his book, Mere Christianity: “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive, as we had during the war. And then, to mention the subject at all is to be greeted with howls of anger.”
Forgiveness is a nice idea…until it comes to actually forgiving someone who has hurt us deeply.
When Jesus hung on an executioner’s cross and said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,” it was not a theoretical issue for Him; it was deeply personal. One who had been part of His inner circle for the past three years betrayed him for 30 pieces of silver. One of his closest friends denied that he even knew Jesus. Most of His closest friends ran away when He was captured. Those whom He had healed and fed and cared for turned on Him and shouted for His execution. Soldiers whipped Him and mocked Him and stripped Him naked before nailing Him to the cross. When it came to His response to these people, it was not a theoretical matter but a deeply personal matter. Yet what He did toward those who had hurt Him most deeply was to ask God to forgive them.
Then Scripture has the audacity to call us to forgive as Jesus forgave—not theoretically but in reality!
Why would God call me (and you) to do something that is as incredibly difficult as forgiving those who have hurt us?
I can think of two reasons why.
#1: God created us in such a way that our lives only run well or work properly when our soul is not clogged up with grudges and resentment.
Michael McCullough, the former director of research for the National Institute for Healthcare Research, and the co-author of To Forgive is Human: How to Put Your Past in the Past, points out that people who forgive benefit from better immune functioning and lower blood pressure, have better mental health than people who do not forgive, feel better physically, have lower amounts of anger and fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression, and maintain more satisfying and long-lasting relationships. God calls us to forgive out of His love for us. Grudges and resentment are bad for us; forgiveness is good for our well-being.
#2: God desires for us to depend on Him and to be empowered by Him, and the reality is that the only way I can forgive those who have hurt me most deeply is through His help. Only when Christ’s forgiveness flows into my heart and spills from me to others can I forgive those who have hurt me most deeply. I cannot stir up forgiveness on my own; I can only do it through Him.