Forgive, forgive, forgive.
Why is it so very hard? Why did Jesus make such a challenging statement in Matthew 18:35 when he says that Father will do the same to us (throw us to the “tormentors”) if we don’t forgive!?
I am trying to wrap my head around this. It’s not a suggestion. He makes it a command. “Forgive!”
“But Jesus, he hit me!”
“But Jesus, they stole my money!”
“But Jesus, he took my innocence!”
“But Jesus, she’s a bitch and she has totally screwed up my life!”
“But Jesus, they killed my son, my daughter, my child, my parent!”
“But Jesus, he doesn’t understand!”
“But Jesus, it’s unjust, unfair, outrageous, makes me so angry I want to throat punch people!”
Does he care? How can he ask this of us? What kind of a God is he? Where is the love and understanding? I don’t get it!
Yes, he cares for us, very much. So why this unreasonable demand?
Why this? Why the insistence that we forgive? The wrong was done to us! “She said, he said, he did, she did....” Yup, still the voice “forgive!” Its uncompromising, that voice, that command. Forgive!
How we love to make excuses for God. How we love to roll out the “Well it wasn’t fair for Jesus now, was it?” Like that will somehow make it ok! “Jesus won’t give us more than we can manage.” None of these things make it easier. If we are honest with ourselves. They don’t. We feel a bit more pissed off actually.
But still he says, looking directly into our faces, into our eyes: “forgive”.
Jesus does this thing. It’s counter culture, counter human-nature, counter logical. He goes up against the grain, rubs it up the wrong way, brushes the fur of the thing the opposite way. It’s what he does. He is subversive, and this is just a bit more subversion: “forgive!”
We fight, we argue. We ignore, we shout and cry. But we have a choice. Yes, WE do. It’s our choice. We forgive, or we don’t.
What happens if we don’t forgive?
Here’s some reality for you...
We continue to hold that hate, that anger, and whenever we think of that person, that incident, those people, that group, we are filled with rage.
We may get to tell them face to face. We may get to hit them. We may see them sentenced and imprisoned. We may get to ruin their reputation or make them move. But even if we get our way, even if we kill them, the memory is always there, burning below the surface. It’s like a lava pool waiting for sufficient pressure to push up to the surface in a spectacular eruption of fire and destruction.
Medical science has discovered that people who hold onto grudges actually open themselves up to more health issues as the emotions held inside put pressure on the body and cause issues such a raised blood pressure, ulcers, etc.
Mentally, there is stress in addition to the original damage caused by the event that caused the anger in the first place: the incident in which there is unforgiveness.
Is any of this easy? No! Of course not! Only a damn fool would say it is. Anyone who says it so is clearly a liar or deluded.
But, BUT, BUT
When we forgive, it feels unnatural. It feels like a lie. It doesn’t feel real at first. We say it with our mouths and it tastes like ashes as we say it. We feel resentful, but we go ahead anyway. It will raise its head again soon enough. The sick feeling as we relive that moment we were hurt, destroyed, brought low, victimised. When it does, we feel the familiar acid of it crawling around our mind, our body, our very soul.
But the voice of Jesus says again: “forgive”, so we forgive again.
Still that taste of ashes. Still that metallic taste of an action we don’t understand, that feels like injustice. But we do it.
More time passes, the memory keeps returning and we keep choosing to say those words. “I forgive them”. And, miracle of miracles, there is less acid, less pain from the sting of un-forgiveness burning inside of us, less. Just less of the negative, less of the bitterness, less of the anger…
The gaps between these moments get longer and longer. It’s not the trial it once was. We feel lighter. The sun shines a little brighter. We laugh a little more maybe.
What about that person, what about the perpetrator? How is this fair?
But who was suffering the whole time I was holding the unforgiveness? It wasn’t them. It’s possible that they will never care or give it a second thought.
No, it was me, the victim. I was suffering. I was never getting better.
Jesus knows this. He understands human beings. How? Because he made us, because he became one of us, because he suffered greatly for us, with us, and it was unfair, unjust and undeserved. He committed no wrong. He was completely perfect, completely innocent. Even when we are the victim, can we say the same? Not even close! We all have our moments of personal immorality. But more than this, JESUS KNOWS THE CURE! AND HE CARES ABOUT OUR FREEDOM. That is why he came to this place. He came to bring freedom. And that freedom is counter to all we know here. That freedom comes with forgiveness – a price that seems too steep, too unimaginable and yet, when paid, is the only thing that will take the power away to harm us any further.
Does Jesus care? Yes, he does! Does he understand my pain? Yes, he does! Does he know it’s not fair? Yes, he does!
So, what is He going to do about it?
Well, He’s already died for it. He’s already bore it deep in body, soul, and spirit. He’s already suffered on my behalf, stepped in between my heart and their actions, and took that bitter knife straight through His own flawless heart, those betraying nails through his own two hands.
And all He’s asking us to do?
He’s asking me to forgive the perpetrator. He does this because He knows that nothing else can defeat that crippling, joy-robbing, pain-inflicting, oppressing, crushing weight that is unforgiveness and keeps us always at the point of the infliction of pain.
He forgave us, though we didn’t deserve it, and we can forgive them, though they may not deserve it either. And over time, this choice to forgive seeps deep into our hearts and, by the grace of God alone, set us free!
Caroline Bellis hails from the little island of Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands located off the North coast of Normandy in France, now made famous by the film “The Guernsey Potato Peel Pie and Literary Society”! She is a writer, an artist, and a lover of nature and beautiful scenery. Caroline also adores animals, especially cats and dogs, and she loves to travel. She parted with her career in finance more recently to spend time as a missionary with Youth With A Mission in the South of France and in Hawaii. She is now back in Guernsey.