Imagine it: you are holding a burning coal in your hands. It burns you. It hurts you – but you hold it even tighter. The fiercer it burns, the tighter you hold it to yourself, the more damage it is doing. Why would you not let it go?
This is what a lack of forgiveness is like.
This post comes from the heart … like the first one I ever wrote specifically for this page, and which received astonishing (to me!) numbers of viewings and comments, maybe precisely because it spoke from the heart. That post (with a link to it here: – https://francesgabriel75.wordpress.com/2013/05/30/judgement-and-walking-in-anothers-shoes/) was born out of several things. 1) Many years ago I did some things I’m not proud of and wish I’d had the courage not to do – but at the time I didn’t. 2) Since then I have gone on a journey with God – learning to accept His forgiveness and learning to forgive myself. 3) One of the people closest to me was someone I’d never told about these events but I wanted to have all the skeletons out of the closet so that at some point – maybe – I can use this experience for good, to help others in a similar situation. But when I told this person, their response was not loving, but felt judgemental – and it hurt. So … blog as therapy but also as a tool for teaching myself. I have been at different times both the woman forgiven by Jesus and the Pharisee judging her – and having felt on the receiving end of this judgement, I didn’t want to be that person who was judging another.
The problem is, I still find it hard to forgive that person I shared with for their words, their attitudes. I know I shouldn’t as a Christian – but this is TRUTH.
So back to my initial image. Who does this lack of forgiveness hurt? That person? No – they probably aren’t even aware. Me then? Yes, certainly. From my experience, the times I have felt – and kept – angry with people, it has been me who has been inwardly corroded. Or another image: think of a bowl of pure water. It only takes one drop of dye or food colouring but that water is no longer pure, unpolluted. The dye permeates through the rest of the contents of that bowl, taints all of it. Such is a lack of forgiveness. It restricts relationships, poisons words and and entrenches itself in your heart, mind and soul.
Jesus talked a lot about forgiveness, not only in his model prayer, which has become known as ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ or ‘Our Father’ and can be trotted out in a fairly ritualistic way (I am not for an instant suggesting this is always how it is said – just that it can be fairly easy to do so.) He followed up the phrase: ‘Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us’ (modern version of the prayer) with a warning in Matthew 6: 14-15:
“If you forgive others the wrongs they have done to you, your Father in heaven will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive the wrongs you have done.
Really? Is that what it really says?
The same implied condition appears in Mark 11: 25 (“forgive anything you may have against anyone, so that your Father in heaven will forgive the wrongs you have done”) and in Luke 6: 37 (“Do not judge others, and God will not judge you; do not condemn others, and God will not condemn you; forgive others, and God will forgive you.”)
This is nowhere better exemplified than in the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant in Matthew chapter 18: 21-35 when Peter (a disciple I can relate to in all his human fallability!) comes to Jesus and asks (verses 21-22):
“Lord, if my brother keeps on sinning against me, how many times do I have to forgive him? Seven times?”
“No, not seven times,” answered Jesus, “but seventy times seven.”
There follows the well-known story of the servant who owes the king a huge amount of money, for which he could have been landed in prison and his wife and children sold into slavery to repay the debt. Although he himself is forgiven this debt, he finds a fellow servant who owes him a paltry amount and, instead of passing on the forgiveness he has experienced, he has the man thrown into prison. The king is understandably unimpressed (verses 32-35):
‘You worthless slave!’ he said. ‘I forgave you the whole amount you owed me, just because you asked me to. You should have had mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you.’ The king was very angry, and he sent the servant to jail to be punished until he should pay back the whole amount.”
And Jesus concluded, “That is how my Father in heaven will treat every one of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”
The principle is clear: each one of us has been forgiven a huge amount by God. The Psalmist points out in Psalm 103 verse 12 that “As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our sins from us.” So given that fact, how can we do other than reciprocate this forgiveness towards our fellow men? If Jesus, on the cross can say: “Forgive them, Father! They don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23: 34) then how can we, who have had such minor wrongs done to us in comparison, do otherwise?
Which doesn’t mean that it is easy.
Coming back to my own life, I can choose to keep that anger, that hurt close to me – the consequence will be that I will remain bitter and will shut out the effect of God’s forgiveness in my own life. Or I can choose to let it go. But that may have to be a daily choice, that I need to re-make over and over again. And it will need God’s help.
Some sites I have found useful on this topic are: http://christianity.about.com/od/ topicaldevotions/a/How-To-Forgive.htm and http://myprayerinstitute.wordpress.com /2012/10/24/a-prayer-for-forgiveness-and-forgiving-others/
From the latter I would like to borrow a prayer (left with blanks for each one of us to personalise as we wish):
Father, Your Word tells us that if we forgive those who have sinned against us, then You, our Heavenly Father, will forgive us. But, if we refuse to forgive others, You will not forgive us of our sins. Today we choose to forgive. Father, we declare that we will be patient with people and forgive those who have offended us. I forgive __________ for ________________, and I release them and let it go. Father, forgive me for my sins. You said that if I confess my sins to You, You are faithful and just to forgive me and cleanse me from all wickedness. Therefore, Father, please forgive me for ___________.
All Bible verses, unless otherwise mentioned, come from the Good News Bible Translation.
Picture credits: Pic. 1: http://godinthemidst.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/holding-on-to-anger-is-like-grasping.html; Pic. 2: http://smashedpeasandcarrots.blogspot.co.uk /2013/07/tutorial-how-to-make-water-fireworks.html); Pic 3: http:// psychosermons.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/necessary-forgiveness-unnecessary.html)