The world has become an angry place. In some cases, a dangerous place. In many situations a place of harm and damage and injury, more than many of us can remember. I speak not only of what we hear in the news. Everyone experiences anger and harm and injury and loss sometimes. The Bible says to forgive (Matt. 6:14-15; Col. 3:12-15). Does that really make sense, though?
Holding a resentment towards someone else is like drinking poison and then waiting for the other person to die.
It took me many years to realize this. Far too many years.
In fact, I was usually of the mind that if someone did something wrong to either me, or someone that I cared about, I would not only not forgive the offending person, but I would also:
a.) Not talk to them, unless absolutely necessary (for either days, weeks, months … or life)
b.) Try to exact some sort of low-caliber, yet spiteful revenge upon them
c.) Secretly hope that they came upon bad times
I know – I was terrible. I admit it.
Thankfully, after finding my faith, I also found a couple of other things.
And most importantly – forgiveness.
The Truth of Forgiveness
I think there is a human condition where many people assume that if we forgive others for the wrongs they do to us (or those close to us) that we are, in a sense, letting them off the hook when perhaps they should be punished. The offender gets to go on their merry way through life, while we are still suffering because of their actions. I almost felt like if I forgave someone, then I was condoning the wrong that they did!
Forgiveness is a necessity for us, not vengeance. God is the true judge, not us.
And God doesn’t just ask us to forgive others, he commands us to forgive others. It’s not an option. And God is certainly not foolish, callous, or capable of ever being wrong. He can’t be. He’s God. And when He commands something from us, it’s because it’s for the best. For us, and for everyone involved.
God knows that by allowing ourselves the freedom to forgive and forget (yes, we have to forget, too), we not only find peace, but we are saying in essence, God is the only judge in all things.
In fact, we may not have committed the same crime that we’re upset about. But we’ve committed other crimes, haven’t we?
In each of our lives, we’ve all been hurt at times by the actions and words of another. And these things leave us wanting to be fuming mad, to be vengeful, and even very hurt.
It’s ok to be upset. It’s ok to call someone out on something they’ve done wrong. It’s ok to tell the other person that what they did was hurtful. But we still must forgive. It is necessary.
By not forgiving, we’re essentially stating, “Yes, I’ve committed my own crimes, perhaps crimes that are different, or maybe even the same – (maybe even worse!), but we’re not focusing on me right now, we’re focusing on you. And you are so very wrong and awful and disgusting and completely sub-human for what you have done.”
And in reality, our own sins and wrongdoings should displease us far more than any one else’s. Let’s face facts; it’s our own souls that we should be most concerned with. And by condemning, judging and not forgiving others for their misdeeds…well, that is in no way helpful to our own soul. We are consuming the poison of blame and unforgiveness ourselves.
What then is the outcome of unforgiveness? Someone who can become bitter, mean, resentful, untrusting, suspicious and eventually – spiritually dead inside. Very often, the effects of refusing to forgive take a physical toll as well.
Forgiveness for Our Soul
Conversely, if we identify the wrong that was done against us and concretely and sincerely forgive that person – many times over and over if need be — not only is it pleasing to God, it’s helpful to ourselves. If we don’t practice forgiveness, we might just be the ones who pay most dearly. By offering forgiveness, we also bring upon ourselves blessings from God – peace, hope, gratitude and even joy. Forgiveness leads us to physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.
Forgiveness is good for our soul.
Forgiveness is necessary for our soul.
Forgiveness is necessary for our salvation.
O Lord, forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
What is Forgiveness?
If we are contrite and repentant, God will always forgive us our trespasses. He also asks us to also forgive those that trespass against us – both inside and out. We must also let go of all interior thoughts and feelings of any resentment or a desire for revenge.
In reality, the acts that hurt or offended us may always remain a part of our life, but forgiveness allows us to let go of their grip on us and helps us to focus on other, more important things – such as compassion and prayer for the very people that have hurt us.
Remember, forgiveness doesn’t mean that we deny the other person’s responsibility for hurting us, and it doesn’t minimize or justify the wrong. Forgiving someone doesn’t equate to excusing the act. But forgiveness brings us peace, so that we may go on with our lives, and please God.
In 2010, I had a terrible car accident. The person who hit my car ran a red light, driving well over 60 miles per hour. It was completely his fault. I was left with many injuries including a fractured spine, and it took me months to heal.
When I lay in the hospital that first night, I was angry, and was feeling very sorry for myself. Why did this have to happen to me? I did nothing wrong. I didn’t deserve this. He did this to me.
And as those feelings started to take hold, I was given the grace to recognize what was happening. I decided that night that I wasn’t going to drink the poison that comes with resentment. And I forgave the person who put me in that hospital bed. To my surprise, I even started praying for him. And I have honestly never had a negative feeling about that accident since, or the person that caused it.
I’ve made mistakes in my life. I have done and said things that have affected others negatively. I have hurt others. I still make mistakes today. Who am I to not forgive another person for something they have done wrong to me? I know I certainly hope to be forgiven when I make a mistake, whether it is a minor infraction, or a big one.
Making forgiveness part of our daily lives is essential for spiritual and personal growth. It may be difficult at first, but by God’s grace, it becomes easier. I can tell you from experience that you’ll be glad you did.
Alan Scott is a writer and graphic designer residing in Virginia. A former Agnostic, he converted to the Catholic faith in 2004. In 2014 he started his blog GrowInVirtue.com, which focuses on growing in holiness, by attempting to live a life more simple and virtuous, a life that is lived for God. When he’s not writing or designing, you’ll find him, hands dirty, in his garden. You can find him on Facebook, too.