By Beth Baus
Sometimes we believe, because we’re Christians, it should be easy to forgive someone who has wronged us. We think if we just use the right technique, say the right words, or do the right things, we will eventually regain those feelings of love and respect. When those feelings don’t return, the obvious conclusion must be, there is something wrong with us, or just maybe, since deep in our heart we have not truly forgiven them, God has forsaken us and destined us to a life of misery; a misery of our own making because we did not mean what we said.
Where we err is in our understanding of forgiveness and how it often unfolds.
Forgiveness is first and foremost about God. As human beings, it’s impossible for us to forgive by our own strength and fortitude. True forgiveness is only possible because nothing is impossible with God.
When we make the choice to forgive, we do this in spite of how we feel. Contrary to common belief, forgiveness is not a feeling; it’s a conscious decision we make and see to fruition because of the grace of God that He so abundantly bestows upon us. When we choose to forgive, we are in actuality calling on God’s grace and asking Him to change our heart. What we are often saying is, “God, I know what I am saying and attempting to do is the correct thing—now, please God, let my heart ‘catch up’ with my mouth.”
In Isaiah 43:25, God says (referring to the Israelites), “I will remember their sin no more.” What does this mean? Is God saying that He forgets the sin? What I think God is actually saying is that He chooses not to remember it. In the same way, saying “we forgive” someone does not mean that we will never remember the hurt they caused us. What it does mean is that by the help of God’s grace, He has given us the power to choose not to talk about it, or dwell on it and eventually, we choose to no longer remember it with a spirit of pain, anger, or hatefulness. This kind of power to forgive cannot be found in a therapist’s office or from the abundance of self-help books found on the shelves at the corner bookstore. Our ability to forgive only comes by the power of God’s life changing gift, the gift of His grace and mercy on our lives and because of this, He gives us the ability to love (and forgive) others, because He first loved us. (I John 4:19)
The Bible urges us to forgive because it is the right thing to do . . . not because the other person is sorry.
I’d like to share a story I read on the life of Corrie ten Boom, who had been imprisoned with her family by the Nazis for giving aid to the Jews during WWII. Her father and sister died as a result of the brutal treatment they received in prison. God kept Corrie through that time and after the war she traveled, testifying of His goodness, and establishing homes of emotional healing for both the afflicted and the afflicters. This is what she wrote about a remarkable encounter she had in Germany:
It was a church service in Munich that I saw him, the former S.S. man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbruck. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there-the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, my sister’s pain-blanched face.
He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. “How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein,” he said. “To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!”
His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had spoke so often to the people in Bloemendall about the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side.
Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? “Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness.”
As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.
So I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on Him. When He tells us to love our enemies, he gives, along with that command, the love itself.” (The Hiding Place, pg 238)