I’m not a craftsman, handyman, mechanic or anything of the sort. So I don’t identify with the guy (or gal) that goes into a hardware store with great anticipation, much like a child stepping into a toy or candy store. For those skilled at working with their hands, seeing all the tools, machines, gizmos and contraptions must be a source of unlimited delight.
But being a writer, I’m that way with words. For many years libraries or bookstores were my “candy store” – in a word-ly sense. Today the “library” has been brought into the comforts of our homes through the Internet and search engine of choice. But the principle remains the same: We have unlimited access to words, infused with vast power, both for good and for ill.
With a few choice words – or even a single word – we can bring joy or inflict pain, heal or reopen wounds. I’ve been reflecting on a specific word, one that whether spoken or not has the capacity for great healing. The redemptive properties of this word are vast. It’s an amazing word, but one that’s greatly underutilized, underappreciated, and undervalued. And unfortunately, for some people the mere thought of it is as offensive as any four-letter expletive we can imagine. This word I refer to is:
There are those that even now are cringing, as if I’d just written some terribly offensive racial or ethnic epithet. Forgiveness has been extracted from their vocabulary, for good reasons – at least in their opinion.
“After what he did to me, don’t talk to me about forgiveness!” “How can we forgive all of the terrible things they did to us?” “Why should I forgive? If anything, she needs to come to me on her knees, begging for forgiveness!”
Because of attitudes like these, forgiveness is not offered; overtures to seek forgiveness are not extended; relationships remain torn asunder; and groups of people stay in states of alienation, all with festering wounds that refuse to heal and scabs repeatedly being ripped open.
|In a world that demands justice, even revenge,|
forgiveness seems like a forgotten virtue.
Frankly, forgiveness is one of the most difficult of human virtues to practice. Partly because we want justice – even vengeance. When hurt, whether physically, emotionally or both, we want to “get even,” eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, jab for jab. To forgive is to release the right to revenge, to deny the capacity to return damage.
So when the apostle Paul writes in Romans 12:19, “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord,” we recoil. We want to be the ministers of justice, not a loving God.
We also refuse to forgive because that means leaving the past in the past – which would require letting go of our hurts. Many people insist on harboring animosity and grudges toward people that are deceased. The offending parties have been laid to rest, while the unforgiving continue to nurture bitterness and anger, developing ulcers over people who couldn’t apologize even if they wanted to do so. Who’s the real victim of an unforgiving spirit now?
The Bible talks about a “root of bitterness” which can cause great harm. “Pursue peace with all men…. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many are defiled” (Hebrews 12:15). Bitterness – often the result of the failure or refusal to forgive others – can become like an emotional cancer, devastating mind, body, spirit and relationships.
But the best reason of all for extending forgiveness to others – whether they seek it or not – is because that is what God offers to us.
Talking to His disciples, Jesus taught appreciation for receiving forgiveness from God should be reflected by willingness to forgive others, no matter what they have done. “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins” (Mark 11:25). Even on the cross, despite the anguish of imminent death, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
Perhaps the reason many of us who profess to be followers of Jesus struggle so much with forgiveness is we’ve failed to fully grasp the magnitude of God’s forgiveness for our own sins and misdeeds. Romans 4:7-8 states, “Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sins the Lord will never count against him.”
So is there anyone you need to forgive, regardless of whether they’ve asked for forgiveness – or even want it? If you’re willing, no matter how severe the offense may have been, God will enable you to do so. And you’ll be better for it, without a doubt. It could be life-changing.