C.S. Lewis once said, "To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you." There is something about forgiveness that makes it one of the most simple concepts to understand, yet one of the most difficult to practice.
Growing up with two siblings, one only a year younger than me, there were countless incidents where my mother had to break up fights over doll clothes or Lincoln Logs versus Legos. I remember my mother would always encourage us to ask for forgiveness, hug each other, and then we could continue playing if we remembered to share. The whole "forgiveness" thing became extremely easy and I learned never to hold grudges.
I would forget people's wrongs towards me, knowing that I had forgiven them and all was well in the world. Forgiveness was easy until one day, someone wronged me to the point where I felt I could not forgive. It was not about Lincoln Logs anymore, it was something that could never be made right, something that could never be forgotten.
How do you forgive someone you do not want to forgive? How do you forgive someone that does not deserve to be forgiven? Here are a few things I learned on my road to forgiveness:
Remember that no human is above forgiving those who wrong them. Think back to a time when you saw a horrible crime reported on the news, something so devastating that an eternal hell seemed like the only just reward for that perpetrator. With that in mind, think of Barabbas or the thieves on the crosses beside Christ when He was crucified. Those men had been responsible for crimes such as robbery, murder, and many more horrible things that caused them to be crucified for their crimes. However, even on the cross Christ showed forgiveness to the unforgivable, loving those who society deemed undeserving.
Christ lovingly told the thief on the cross, "I assure you today, you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43, NLT). Not only did He forgive the man on the cross, He forgave those who nailed Him there, asking the Father to "forgive them, for they don't know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34, NLT).
As evil and unforgivable as someone may seem, we must always remember we are not the ultimate judges of their character, and that even they are children of God, eligible for His forgiveness.
Identifying as a Christian carries the gravest of responsibilities: to represent the character of Christ. It is easy to represent Christ outwardly in our apparel, our speech, or in the way we let others perceive us. Acting is easy and if we could get into heaven through acting alone, many "Pharisee and Sadducees" of our world would be there in a heartbeat. But forgiveness, especially when it comes to serious crimes, cannot be resolved with a simple "I forgive you" and a hug. It requires those who have been wronged to take the first step in saying, "I want to be like Christ and forgive those who wrong me.”
Many people who have been wronged have never seen earthly justice; perpetrators were never incarcerated and wrongs never justified. In cases such as those, it may seem almost impossible to forgive because we want justice done; we want to see them pay for what we had to suffer. However, that is not the character of Christ. When He forgave on the cross, there was no sudden justice, no correcting the wrongs done against Him. He simply forgave. Although it may seem as though the crime is too hard to forgive, always remember that the Prince of the universe was killed and forgave. Those who claim His character must strive to act as He did.
Trusting the God of Justice
Once I was upset at my sister for poking me in the eye with a screwdriver. Although her toddler form of aggression didn’t leave me blind, I was thoroughly upset at her and at my parents for not spanking her then and there. Although I was young, I could not see the wrong being punished, and I was overwhelmed by a sense of injustice. However, many years later, I was recalling the incident with my mother. When I mentioned my sister's lack of punishment, she went on to tell me that my sister was punished, only I never saw it and that I should have trusted them to have my best interest at heart.
How many times do we not trust God? We see those who wrong us continue to live their lives and prosper while we have to deal with the traumas or other consequences of their wrongs. Why does God not do us justice and strike them dead right there? Why doesn't he allow them to suffer what we suffered, or worse?
If there is on attributes of God that we can count on, that is justice. In Luke 18:7, Christ tells us that "don't you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?" (Luke 18:7, NLT). Trust God! Know that although we may not be able to see the future, although we may not be able to see what happens to those who wrong us, God will give justice to those who cry out to him.
It was not an easy thing to forgive the people who hurt me, it took years for me to come to terms with the situation and even longer for me to forgive. I still struggle with emotions and traumas associated with what happened. However, maintaining a relationship with God and claiming His promises to me brought me through it.
The pain of such experiences might never completely go away, the effects of the wrong might continue to shadow your life. Forgiveness will not bring a loved one back, give a little child their innocence, or make your problems any easier to deal with. However, forgiveness will change your life. It will bring healing to the wounded soul. Forgiveness made my relationship with God stronger, knowing that justice was in His hands. Forgiveness helped me understand God's love for me and the sacrifice He made at the cross. Not only that, it changed my attitude in life. It kept me from victimizing myself and allowed me to enjoy happiness in Christ, knowing that He is the balm of Gilead that can heal the most broken of hearts.