By Linda Ritchie.
I struggle with forgiveness. In fact, I sometimes find it difficult to forgive. If you’re fortunate enough to forgive easily, then there’s no need to read any further. In fact, if you find forgiveness easy, please could we meet for coffee – on me – so that you can share how you manage it? However, if you share my struggle with forgiveness, please read on.
Let me clarify the type of forgiveness I struggle with. I don’t struggle to forgive those minor issues that cause a momentary bump in the road of life, like when a fellow shopper pushes her trolley into the back of your heel; your child refuses to try the supper that you’ve slaved over for the past three hours or your work-weary husband fails to notice your new hair-cut the second he arrives home. I struggle to forgive intentional and repeated offences that result in potholes, diversions and, sometimes, mechanical breakdowns in the road of life. I struggle, even more, when the perpetrator of the damage shows no signs of remorse or repentance.
For the past eighteen months, I have been on a difficult journey of learning to forgive. Without divulging the details of this journey, I’d like to share with you what I’ve learnt about forgiving these life-changing types of offenses.
First, I’ve learnt that there are times when we need to forgive offenses that are not of our own making. People who are subject to all forms of abuse; bullying; discrimination are not responsible for the hurt they experience. Jesus’ crucifixion is the ultimate proof of this truth. Jesus was sinless; yet still He took the place of Barabbas – a “notorious prisoner” (Matt. 27:16) – and was crucified.
Second, we need to forgive even when the perpetrators of the offense don’t ask for forgiveness or demonstrate any signs of remorse. I really get angry when I see people who have caused great hurt going about their daily lives without any indication of the hurt they’ve caused. Laughing and joking. Carefree. As difficult as it is, I’ve learnt the importance of practising forgiveness at these times. If I don’t, I allow this anger to dominate my thinking and the results can be disastrous. Perhaps that is one of the reasons Paul instructs the Philippians (Phil. 4: 8 and 9, ESV) to think about what is true, honourable, just, pure, lovely and commendable so that “the peace of God will be with you”
Third, I’ve learnt that forgiveness is often a process. Have you ever wondered about Jesus’ answer to Peter’s question in Matthew 18:21-22?
“Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 2Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times” (ESV).
While I don’t know why Jesus gave these exact numbers in His response, what these numbers do show is that forgiveness is a process and is not a once-off experience. We need to forgive, not once, not even seven times, but seventy-seven times. Forgiveness is clearly something that we have to do repeatedly. In my experience, I had to forgive on an almost weekly basis and, just when I thought the nasty incident was finally over, a new aspect of the hurt raised its proverbial ugly head, and I needed to forgive all over again.
Despite these struggles with forgiveness, I find it comforting to remember that God understands the experience of forgiving people who hurt and victimise the innocent. This is crystal clear when Jesus, on the cross, cried out, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34, ESV).
“Lord, please help me to forgive.” This has been my regular prayer for a while now. I take great comfort in knowing that God understands my pain and longs to help me with this process. I pray that you may experience the same comfort from turning to God in your own journeys of forgiveness.
I pray, too, that you may experience God’s “peace that surpasses all understanding” (Phil. 4:7, ESV) in these times.