Forgiveness is central to the New Covenant. It is very clear that we must forgive those that have offended and hurt us. We have been forgiven much and so in the same way we need to be forgiving, but simply saying, “I forgive you” is not enough, since this does not change the hurt we may be feeling. True forgiveness will change the emotional impact of the situation and for that to happen we need to forgive from the heart. The most significant aspect of forgiveness is that it frees us and if we don’t forgive, we are trapped.
Let us examine what forgiveness is and what it is not.
To begin with, let us look at those Roman soldiers who tortured and mocked Jesus, who drove the nails into His hands and feet and crucified him. If those Roman soldiers really, really knew who Jesus was and loved him like he loved them, would they have done it? Somehow, I think not. Jesus knew that they didn’t recognize who he was or grasped what they were doing. That is why He was able to say, “Father, forgive them. They don't know what they are doing." Forgiveness is an understanding that people don’t realize the impact of their actions, what they are saying, what they are doing nor do they comprehend the consequences. We are all broken people, born into a broken world with all types of sin and iniquity, with all types of hurts and traumas and incapable of doing the right thing all the time.
Forgiveness does not mean that a person’s wrong actions or behaviour is acceptable or that we can allow the pattern to continue.
I am counselling a woman whose husband is violently abusing her. I suggest to the wife, "It may help you if you forgive your husband." She might look at me and say, "You must be joking!" The reason may be that she thinks by forgiving him, she is accepting that what he has done is okay and that it gives him permission to continue. This is not forgiveness. This abusive behaviour is not acceptable and maybe a restraining order, or police assistance should be sought. His behaviour is inappropriate and he needs help. We are not rejecting him but restraining him until he can receive some help.
Forgiveness has nothing to do with ‘who has done what’ and who is right and who is wrong. Forgiveness does not depend upon the person that hurt us. Forgiveness has everything to do with the hurt we are experiencing and being set free from that pain.
I am counselling a woman who was molested as a child. I suggest to her that it would help her if she forgave the perpetrator. She may respond by saying, "Why should I forgive. I didn't do anything wrong." Absolutely true, she didn't do anything wrong. She was an innocent child. I will then ask her, “If the molester went to Jesus and asked Jesus to forgive him, would Jesus forgive him?” Obviously the answer is yes. I will then ask her to consider the following: “Jesus did not do anything wrong either. If Jesus is prepared to forgive and we are not, maybe our yardstick is different to His?”
Forgiveness does not imply that we need to become buddies with the person that hurt us. You cannot be at peace with another person while they are unrepentant. There is a big difference between forgiveness and being reconciled. Reconciliation requires an action from both parties whereas forgiveness is all about us.
We all know how to say the words, “I forgive you”, and be very sincere about it, but how do we do it from the heart? The only way we are able to forgive from the heart is through the help of the Holy Spirit. That is why the Holy Spirit is our counsellor.
I was counselling a man in his thirties. His current condition was that he was unable to hold down a job. Invariably, he would disappear and drink himself into a stupor. We had worked through a number of other issues, when one day he recounted how he had an emotional breakdown while training to become a chef. He felt that Master Chef was particularly hard and abusive towards him. He agreed when I suggested he should forgive Master Chef. I suggested he close his eyes and ask the Holy Spirit to help him forgive by ‘putting him in Master Chef shoes’”.
It was less that 3 minutes when he opened his eyes and kept blurting out, “He loves me!” After a while he told me that the Holy Spirit showed him, that Master Chef considered himself a failure and because Master Chef “loved” him, he didn’t want him also to become a failure. Master Chef didn’t know any other way of training except by being harsh and demanding. I ask my client, “Can you forgive Master Chef?” He looked at me smiling and said, “I have already forgiven him from the bottom of my heart!”
The process of forgiveness is not about trying to recall memories or trying to re-experience the past. It is about seeing the unpleasant incident from God’s perspective. When we see things from God’s perspective, we realize that our perceptions were false. The revelation of our error-based thinking helps us to be released from the pain associated with the event. Our pain and emotional hurt is rooted in our incorrect interpretation of the event and not in the event itself.
Extract from the book“A Road to Freedom” by Merril