“Forgive and forget” (Common proverb). “To err is human, to forgive, divine” (Alexander Pope). None of these clichés help the healing when someone is hurting at the hands of another. However, part of our Christian walk is changing our heart and letting go of the hurt that we feel. In this, we have the Holy Spirit to guide us and help us through the process of healing. Forgiveness is not only the words “I forgive you,” but it is also a change in one’s heart, a plan of action moving forward, and a healing process. It is a difficult process, but we are empowered by Christ to complete that process.
The dictionary defines “forgive” as a verb meaning “to stop feeling angry or resentful toward someone for an offense, flaw, or mistake.” However, to stop feeling requires a change in one’s outlook and one’s heart. It means no longer operating according to those feelings that were once there. It is continually letting go of those feelings, just as when Jesus said to forgive “not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22). Jesus’s answer of seventy-seven is noteworthy because seven was a number that symbolized completeness in Hebrew tradition, most likely having reference to God’s completion of creation in seven days. The number seventy-seven was meant to signify as many times as needed in order to completely forgive another person.
In my own life, I have struggled with forgiveness. I had a friend in high school that I was really close to. She was my best friend and we did everything together. However, it was also really hard to be her friend. She was manipulative and used my secrets against me. I realized that she didn’t want other people to know that I was her friend and that she only agreed to hang out with me so that I would pay for her movie tickets or take her out for ice cream. In the end, I stopped hanging out with her because it was just too painful. I struggled for a long time with feelings of anger and resentment for how she had treated me. It influenced my other friendships because I was distant and harsh when I thought they were “like her.” However, I have been working to forgive her. It still takes a conscious effort every time I think of her and I remind myself that I am no better than her. I have sinned against friends who forgave me and I have sinned against God, who forgave me and gave his only son for me. I have to remind myself that God loves her too and that the hurt will only be healed if I surrender that burden to God. Even if she never changes, hanging on to that pain isn’t going to do me any good. Instead, I can follow Christ’s example and be refreshed by his love.
The number seventy-seven was meant to signify as many times as needed in order to completely forgive another person.
“Those who say they will forgive but can’t forget; bury the hatchet, but they leave the handle out for immediate use,” (D.L. Moody). Now, it might not always be possible to just forget what has been done to us, but it is feasible to move beyond it. If part of forgiveness is no longer acting according to feelings of resentment, animosity, and ill will, then memory should not be dictating current actions. Also, because we have been saved through Christ, we are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). We are free of the burden and punishment of the past through Christ’s sacrifice, and we also are empowered by the Holy Spirit to be able to move forward in our spiritual walk with Christ. Jesus said, “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:30). Therefore, our reliance on Christ means that our task of forgiveness and letting go is shared with Christ.
Jacob and Esau are the perfect example of forgiveness. Jacob and Esau were pitted against each other from birth (Genesis 25). Jacob stole Esau’s birthright through deceit and lies (Genesis 27). However, Jacob understood the consequences to his actions. He feared Esau and what Esau would do to retaliate. Jacob tried to pave the way for leniency with gifts of livestock, but he knew that Esau’s rage was justified. Their first meeting should have been Esau’s chance at revenge, but Esau welcomes Jacob and weeps with him (Genesis 32-33). Esau’s heart had been changed by God before Jacob even tried to mend their relationship. Esau forgave and paved the way for a reconciled relationship. God allowed Esau to let go of his resentment and he brought Jacob closer to him and closer to his brother in the process.
Forgiving others as we have been forgiven is an act of worship.
When Jesus died on the cross, he said “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). In that statement, Jesus forgave humankind and offered himself as a sacrifice for our salvation. His forgiveness offers an example for us to follow in forgiving others. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” God’s forgiveness is poured out on us for everything we have ever done against him. In forgiving others, we are not only following his example and his desire for our lives, but we are also showing our gratitude for what he has done for us. Forgiving others as we have been forgiven is an act of worship.
In addition to worshipping God through our forgiveness of others, forgiveness is also good for us. Forgiveness, both receiving it and giving it, allows us to gain times of refreshment from the Lord (Acts 3:19). Within the church, we are supposed to forgive one another and have patience with each other for the good of the body of Christ (Colossians 3:13). Forgiveness promotes harmony within a group. Forgiveness is also part of being a good witness. Those who forgive are establishing their difference from the rest of the world and unbelievers will take notice.
In the Old Testament, Joseph shows us how to live without resentment and anger. He was sold into slavery by his own brothers. He was enslaved, imprisoned, and threatened with death. Instead of letting anger consume him, he continued to follow God’s guidance for his life. In Genesis 50, he is confronted with the same brothers who betrayed him and sold him into slavery in Egypt. He forgives them and provides for them in the time of famine. His actions were dictated by his love for God and his brothers, rather than what his brothers had done to him. He was also able to see God’s purposes in what had happened, which allowed him to continue following God’s plans. God placed the obstacles of slavery and imprisonment in Joseph’s life so that he would be in a place to help his brothers when the time came. Joseph forgave because it was what God wanted for his life and then he continued along the path that God had set out for him.
Forgiveness is demonstrated to us by Jesus on the cross and it is an act of worship to God as well as a release from the burden that our anger and resentment can be. Forgiveness isn’t easy, but we must rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome the pain and resentment we feel toward one another. In forgiving others, God is changing our heart so that we no longer act according to the past. Learning to forgive means that we will be better able to do it the next time because we have practiced, and it also means that we are able to move forward in our relationship with God because we are no longer hindered by our anger and resentment toward others.
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” (Luke 6:37)