Having had to hear the rather sad calumny against people with severe chronic illnesses like FMS and ME that we are ill because we don’t forgive and this. along with being angry and lonely, has made us ill, I’ve been reconsidering the whole subject of forgiveness.
Jesus made it a commandment. “Forgive your enemies,” and “Forgive your brother”, (meaning all relatives and friends). He said this in various ways at various times. If it’s a commandment (and it is) then it’s something we must do with our will, not just a feeling. In His commandment Jesus offers no wiggle room such as “forgive anyone who says sorry” or “forgive those brought to justice”. He is, in fact, rather stark in His commandment. We are just to forgive.
There was a tendency I remember of saying “forgive and forget”. This is probably fairly easy for someone like me who can’t remember much anyway, but for someone with functioning memory that’s not possible. For someone who has been systematically abused, it’s completely impossible. You can’t tell someone to “forget” as memory isn’t under the will. You can help someone not dwell on bad memories, which is part of the will, but you can’t make someone forget.
Back in my psychi nurse days a friend of mine noted that many of the patients with schizophrenia had been seriously abused, often in childhood. The question was raised whether those with a predisposition to such a serious mental illness could be tipped into illness by abuse. There are no answers to this; and anyway we knew just as many patients who had lived normal happy lives until the disease struck. We do know that schizophrenia is rooted in having too high a dopamine uptake, but why this happens and how is still a mystery. While modern medicine loves to blame patients and their families, there is actually nothing to back up this “blame the patient” approach in psychotic illness.
But there are many people who have very good reason to be unhappy, anxious and angry about the way others have treated them. So what can they do to forgive those who have wounded them either through selfishness, thoughtlessness or maliciousness? How do we obey the command Jesus gave us to forgive? And why did Jesus insist on it anyway?
In the Old Testament God says, “Revenge is mine” (Deut 32:35). That means it isn’t up to us to take revenge or want revenge for the wrongs done to us. If we can pray for those who persecute us (Matt 5:44) then we are on the right way to forgiveness. If we can genuinely hope for the best for the person who has hurt us, for heaven for them, then we have made the act of will to forgive.
Some people have said it’s easier to forgive another’s sin against us if we understand our sins against God. This may be true up to a point, but there are some sins that others perpetrate against us that we wouldn’t dream of doing, no matter how badly behaved we might be. It isn’t helpful to measure our sins against sins that are so monstrous we couldn’t even consider committing them.
All we can do is accept we too sin. Then we must be sure we ask for forgiveness for our sins. But if the person who has hurt us is never sorry all we can do is leave it in God’s hands.
And that’s why Jesus commands it. There’s nothing more freeing, more peace bringing than forgiving the other and putting their salvation into God’s hands. The act of forgiveness is healing to the person who has been wronged. That’s the root of Jesus’ command. Forgive your enemies because it’s good for you.
If we believe the terrible warnings Jesus gave us and the witness of saints over the years we know with deep sorrow that hell is not empty. Jesus offered forgiveness to anyone and everyone. All we have to do is accept the gift. If we offer the gift we cannot force the other to take it, any more than Jesus forces them to take His forgiveness. If people don’t want to be sorry or accept forgiveness they don’t have to. But you surely can’t look at a crucifix for very long without realising that He did that as He did that for each of us, our forgiving others can’t be so hard, especially as He will give us what we need to do it.
Forgive even those who project their own problems onto you. Resist the temptation to wish for retribution or even justice. Pray and ask for mercy for them as you would want mercy for you. And resist the other temptation that comes with being hurt by someone who does something you would never dream of doing. Resist feeling superior, even if they never say sorry. While being so magnanimous with your forgiveness don’t trip into the pit of the Pharisee.
Forgiveness is really wishing well for the other, wanting their redemption. Those, rather strange, pseudo-christians who scream damnation on others have absolutely no idea what they are doing (or at least I hope not). Pray and leave it up to God.
This forgiveness malarkey; it’s not as easy as you might think is it?
For those easier to solve moments “Hey now, hold on, there’s a better way to solve this conflict, hey now, hold on, there’s a better way —-hug it out, hug it out..