(This is the third entry of a series on forgiveness. A grace with which we all struggle.)
In his eulogy for his brother Moody, Muir Powell spoke of forgiveness. “Think of the sweetness of the morning light on a day we knowed we would not hate or be angry, accuse or fear anyone. That promise is not just a dream. It is possible right here, and it is in ourselves….Learn to forgive your neighbor and brother.”1
Forgiveness is within ourselves. It cannot be forced or coerced or manipulated. Forgiveness is grace willingly and freely given. It comes from the heart, from within ourselves, from who we are as children of God–the forgiven. “Forgive your brother from your heart,” Jesus encouraged (Matthew 18:35).
Forgiveness is a two-sided coin. One side is the decision to forgive. The decision first is what to do with the hurt and the anger, with the desire to strike back, the desire to get even, and the desire to fight evil with evil. The decision is made to take control of your anger, emotions, and desires. You decide to let go of them and to forgive. You are not going to grudgingly hold the offense against the one who hurt you. No matter the strong desire to do so, you are not going to treat him as he treated you. You are going to seek to overcome evil with good. Remember the familiar words of Jesus, “do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you (Luke 6:27b-28).
The other side of the coin is forgiving with your emotions. Perhaps better stated, the journey of healing the heart filled with the raw emotions of the pain of being wronged. Taking the journey of healing hurt and betrayal felt within the heart. The difficult journey of healing when the heart has been so used and abused.
To allow the emotional pain to fester you victimize yourself with a troubled and bitter heart. Negative emotions take hold of your heart. They wreak havoc in your soul–resentment, hostility, hatred, bitterness, holding onto a grudge, obsessed with payback, and vengeance. What good do these accomplish? Harry Emerson Fosdick portrayed unforgiveness, “Hating people is like burning down your own house to get rid of a rat.”2
With the Nickel Mines tragedy still fresh in his memory, an Amish man put it this way, “I I hold a grudge for one day, it is bad. If I hold it for two days, it’s worse. If I hold a grudge for a year, then that man is controlling my life. Why not just let go of the grudge now?”3
The second side of the coin, the most difficult and demanding side, is emotional forgiveness. This is a journey of healing which results in replacing the jumble of negative emotions with positive emotions like compassion, kindness, empathy, the desire to do good to the one who offended you, and the determination to do what is for the good of the wrong doer. This is the healing that enables you to see the wrong doer not through what he has done, but to see him for who he is, a person, with weakness like any other human being. It is the healing that gives you back the control of your life, of your mind, and of your heart.
We see this in the words of the apostle Paul. “And don’t sin by letting anger gain control over you. Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a mighty foothold to the Devil….Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he is the one who has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of malicious behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, and tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:26-27, 29-32 NLB).
____________ 1Robert Morgan. This Rock (Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel HIll, 2001), 310. 2Everett L. Worthington, Jr. Forgiving and Reconciling, Bridges to Wholeness and Hope (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003 [Orginally published as Five Steps to Forgiveness, 2001]), 22. 3Donald B. Kraybill, Steven M. Nolt, and David L. Weaver-Zercher, Amish Grace, How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2007), 132.