A Lesson about Forgiveness
The need to be forgiven by God and forgiving those who’ve hurt us is an indisputable doctrine of Christianity. Denominations might differ on many points but this isn’t one of them. But forgiving those who’ve hurt us (emotionally, physically, financially or even spiritually) can be a really difficult thing to do sometimes, especially if that hurt was inflicted upon us at a time that we were physically helpless or in other ways vulnerable.
Such was the case with Mary and me a few years after I was diagnosed with ALS. I had lost my ability to speak and was confined to a wheelchair. We were both emotionally and physically exhausted, financially broke and spiritually confused; in every sense of the word, we were vulnerable. It was in this weakened condition that someone took advantage of us financially. It was especially hurtful because this act was committed in the name of “helping us.”
This was the greatest test of forgiveness I had faced since committing my life to Christ. I had never before been hurt to the extent of not wanting to relinquish my anger. Looking back I realize that this situation was made worse because the physical weakness that resulted from the ALS had already made me feel emasculated so, in addition to the emotional, financial and marital stress this situation caused, I felt somewhat like a victim of bullying. I did NOT want to forgive this person!
After weeks of allowing my anger stealing my joy, peace and hope, I began praying for God to help me move on. It was about this time that I read or remembered the words of Jesus; “…pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6:28). But the last thing I wanted to do was pray for this person. I faced a clear choice; hold on to my anger with no hope, joy and peace or step out in faith and obey Jesus’ command to start praying for this person. I chose the latter, and it was a conscious choice; it was the last thing that I “felt” like doing.
“Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions.” (Mark 11:25-26 NASB)
Through clenched teeth I told God that I forgave this person but only because He told me to do so. Then I began praying that God would bless this person’s marriage, health, finances and every part of their life. It was really difficult the first few times I prayed for this person, but it gradually became easier. Then, after several days of praying, a strange thing began to happen; it was as if the Holy Spirit opened a window and allowed me to begin seeing the situation from this person’s point of view.
I knew this individual was also in financial trouble and had been “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” Unfortunately this person chose me to play Peter’s role. But I gradually began to see how much stress this person was under and how it affected every aspect of their life. I actually began feeling sorry for this person and began praying earnestly for God to bless them every time they came to my mind. I still do this today and I can honestly say that I sincerely hope this person’s life has been blessed since that time.
The simple fact is that hurting people, hurt people. But having insight into the troubles of those that have hurt us and our forgiving them for their wrong behavior should not be viewed as excusing or in any way justifying their wrong actions. Like everything else that Jesus commanded us to do, forgiving others is for our benefit – so that we can have joy, peace and unshakable hope.
I’m sure there are those reading this post who’ve been victims of physical, sexual or emotional abuse or other horrible things that are much more difficult to forgive than my relatively minor example. I realize that some things are harder to forgive than others, but Jesus didn’t offer exceptions to this rule; His command couldn’t be more straightforward – “…if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” (Matthew 6:14-15 NASB)
Jesus didn’t merely speak these words; He lead by example by forgiving those that mocked, tortured and nailed Him to the cross (Luke 23:34).