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.
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
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
7th Avenue North, Losing: Oh
Lord, give me grace to forgive them, Cause
I feel like the one losin’
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.” 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.”1
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.”
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. 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
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.
Dharmawisdom.org, Phillip Moffitt (referenced on February 23, 2019)
Matthew West, Forgiveness, From the Album “Into the Light” (Sparrow)
Avenue North, Losing, From the Album “The Struggle” (Reunion) 2012
Wikipedia, (referenced on March 24, 2019)
Taoism.net, (referenced on February 23, 2019)
Productivemuslim.com, Jinan Bastaki (referenced on March 24, 2019)
Thoughtco.com, (referenced on February 23, 2019)