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What does it take to find forgiveness?  We may need forgiveness for ourselves or struggle with whether to forgive when people have wronged us in a way that has put a great strain on our hearts and our lives. The situations are unique to each individual’s journey, with God as our guide for the actions we should take.  Our behaviors when facing a decision and the practice of forgiveness have a critical role in our relationships in both the divine and human realms.

Forgiveness is important in many religious traditions and it is critical for our spiritual health and peace of mind.  There is a Tibetan Buddist story about two monks (some updated versions change it to two prisoners of war).  They had been in prison together where they were tortured by their captors.  Years later, they meet again and the first one asks, “Have you forgiven them?” The other replies, “I will never forgive them!  Never!”  Then the first says, “Well, I guess they still have you in prison, don’t they?”  Forgiveness is a way to liberate your feelings about the worst of life’s events.[1]   

Two songs, released in 2012, speak about forgiveness and the feelings that even though it isn’t fair, it is important to move forward from the hurts…

Matthew West, Forgiveness:  Even when the jury and the judge, say you have a right to hold a grudge, It’s the whisper in your ear saying set it free[2]

7th Avenue North, Losing:  Oh Lord, give me grace to forgive them, Cause I feel like the one losin’[3]

In the Jewish culture, before Jesus, the steps to repentance and to earn forgiveness were often of a physical nature:  an animal sacrificed as a sin offering, fasting, ripping of clothes, wearing sack cloth, an action by the High Priest.  The act of killing an animal could symbolize the punishment and that justice was being extracted through the blood of the animal that takes the place of the one who sinned.  Forgiveness was transactional.  A sin against God required a debt to be paid back to God.  After a sin against another person, the transgressor became obligated to the person they offended. 

When Christians confess and ask God, with a repentant heart, sins are forgiven (1 John 1:9).  Biblical lessons have taught that this became possible through the life and death of Jesus.  The ultimate sacrificial act of love for humankind was God’s gift to his creation when we were overwhelmed by sin. 

God’s plan through Jesus made it possible to be forgiven for the wrongs we have committed and the shame we feel.  It isn’t a physical transaction.  It is a process that takes place in the heart, a re-connection to God.  There is a joining to correct the break in our relationship that was caused by our sin.  The teaching of Jesus before his crucifixion spoke of our responsibility to forgive others (Matthew 6:14-15).  Seventy times seven times if that’s what it takes (Matthew 18:22).  We are not stuck waiting on the actions of others.  Forgive as you have been forgiven (Ephesians 4:32).  

When forgiveness is an exchange, an apology and justice is needed for the offense.  But does an “I’m sorry” or a verdict of consequences really result in healing for the one who has been hurt?  Evil people can act with disregard or hatred toward others, creating situations where repentance and restitution may be an impossibility.  In the Hindu Dharma, the feminine forgiveness is granted when there has not been repentance, “which is higher and more noble than the masculine forgiveness granted only after there is repentance.”[4]  Does it really take two willing parties for acts of forgiveness to be effective?  I hope not!

Between individuals, whichever side that you find yourself on, the actions leading to forgiveness are hard, but not impossible.  Forgiveness is a choice.  Human disagreements can stem from both parties viewing themselves as right, with neither side giving in and taking fault for an offense.  Resentment hardens our emotions and “shifts our attention from those who matter to us to those whom we disdain, deadening our spirit.  Why would we choose to live this way? It gives those who wronged you an even greater victory than their original act.”

Granting forgiveness when our pain and loss has been great, doesn’t mean you forget.  Forgiving doesn’t mean we accept the wrongdoing as okay and it doesn’t absolve the perpetrator of blame.  We do not have to lose our story.  There are lessons in it.  Our experiences add to our wisdom.  Learning to let go of the bitterness and anger, we can embrace the fullness of life and what awaits in our future.  We let go so that we are not drawn into continual plans for seeking revenge or the feeling of being stuck as a victim without hope for the days ahead.  When we forgive, we heal.  Withholding forgiveness is like putting our peace of mind directly into the hands of someone who has already been shown to be untrustworthy.  Isn’t our peace more precious to us that we should take the actions necessary to remain in control of it? 

In the Taoist tradition, there is a lesson about forgiveness taught to a student.  The Master teacher tell the student to “Put a potato into a sack for each person who has offended you.”  The student collects a fair number of potatoes.  The Master asks him to carry the sack of potatoes around for the week.  At first, the student doesn’t find the potatoes to be much of a burden, they are not that heavy.  But as the week goes on, he starts to tire of having to drag the sack everywhere he goes.  On top of that, the potatoes start to smell as they rot and spoil.  The next week, the Master says that the student can dump all the potatoes, but needs to then collect more, one for each new and remaining negative feeling about an offense.  The student realizes that to refill his sack, he will be constantly striving against the offenses.  But The Way of Tao does not involve striving.  “So what is the Tao, Master?”  The Master says, “If the potatoes are negative feelings, what is the sack?”  Having learned the lesson, the student replies, “The sack is that which allows me to hold on to the negativity.  It is something within us that makes us dwell on feeling offended…Ah, it is my inflated sense of self-importance.”  “What happens if you let go of the sack?”  The Tao of forgiveness is the conscious decision to relinquish the entire sack.”[5]

For Muslims, forgiving means not carrying a grudge in your heart against that person.  If you were given a chance to retaliate, you would choose not to and that you do not wish the other person evil, even secretly.  If there is an inability to forgive, it may cause the person to repeatedly bring anger and bitterness into every relationship and new experience.  If you cannot move on from the hurt, it is projected onto others.[6]   When praying for your own forgiveness to Allah, it is recommended that you use His names including “He who pardons,” “He who forgives,” and “The oft-forgiving” to reflect the attributes of God that apply.[7]

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To find forgiveness, pray about the situation.  If you have offended someone, ask God to give you courage and humility to do what it takes to mend the relationship.  If you’ve been wronged, don’t sit and focus on your wounds and nurse hate for the person who hurt you.  Pray for the persistence to get past the obstacles blocking your way forward.  Pray for the person who offended you.  This can be a very hard thing to do, but the deeper the pain they have caused is a sign of how far they have strayed from the path God had in mind for them.  Pray that God’s power will influence their future actions.  Pray for God to give the grace to forgive them, “they don’t know what they they’ve been doing” (Luke 23:34).  

The acts of forgiveness takes a lot of work.  Let us be able to show God that we are able to take the high road and that we trust God to know how justice is best served.  In doing so, with help from God, we will be set free to experience peace and spiritual restoration that is beyond understanding.  For that, we can give praise and thankfulness back to our big God.   

[1], Phillip Moffitt (referenced on February 23, 2019)

[2] Matthew West, Forgiveness, From the Album “Into the Light” (Sparrow) 2012

[3] 7th Avenue North, Losing, From the Album “The Struggle” (Reunion) 2012

[4] Wikipedia, (referenced on March 24, 2019)

[5], (referenced on February 23, 2019)

[6], Jinan Bastaki (referenced on March 24, 2019)

[7], (referenced on February 23, 2019)

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