Forgiveness and the road to a healthier mind
There is a well-known Monkey-trap which uses a box with a small slit in it and fruit inside. The monkey slides its hand through the slit and grabs the fruit, but now has a fist and is unable to pull his fist through the slit. The monkey remains trapped because it will not let go of the fruit.
In God we can find healing and wholeness and a way of letting go of all that has damaged and harmed our lives. Yet although we may clearly see the suffering we have undergone at the hands of others, we fail to see that the way we deal with our pain can often add to our suffering. In light of this we look at forgiveness and the road to a healthier mind.
The Forgiveness We Have Received
Imagine what it would be like to unexpectedly lose your job and then find yourself unable to pay off your debts. Although no one can physically see your debt, it becomes like a weight that continually pulls you down. Now think of how it would feel to have the debt paid off and removed. In Jesus all of our debt has been paid in full.
Forgiveness comes about through God’s generosity (Jn 10:28, Rom 3:23, 1 Pet 1:3-4) and is undeserved, and unmerited by us in any way; it comes through the work of Christ and in Him we are a new creation (2 Cor 5:17).
The amazing truth in all of this is that this forgiveness comes from the One who had every right to judge us. Instead we have this outrageously amazing forgiveness that came about through Jesus’ pain, His suffering and His willingness to become vulnerable and a source of ridicule as He stood in our place.
Jesus came so that we could find forgiveness and reconciliation through His work. This means that our forgiveness is something only we can receive, and is (in Christ) completely ours right now (Eph 2:6) because of God’s generosity and willingness to offer a forgiveness that does not compromise His holiness in any way. The fullness of this forgiveness is seen in the imagery behind forgiveness found in scripture. Forgiveness is a washing (Ps 51:7), a lifting up and receiving of a new heart (Ps 51:10); the provision of a heavenly King who came to make us holy – to mark us out as special and make us His.
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…”
Words associated with forgiveness and the imagery behind the scapegoat
In scripture the idea of forgiveness carries the picture of sin being covered and a restoration of broken relationships. One of the main words for forgiveness comes from the root word ‘nasar’ which speaks of lifting up and taking away and it is interesting to see where this word is first used in scripture.
‘Nasar’ is a word first used in Genesis 7:17 to speak of the waters lifting Noah’s Ark. Noah and his family were ‘covered’ (kaphar) with God’s protection and lifted from judgement. As Christians we have been lifted out of our old way of life and brought into a different environment through being clothed in the work of Christ (Gal 3:27). We have been lifted out of separation and condemnation and brought home through the work of a heavenly King. In being forgiven we are released from the penalty of sin and brought into the place of reconciliation and one of the many pictures that speak of this is found in looking at the Day of Atonement – the Day of Covering. .
One the Day of Atonement a goat would be sacrificed as part of the sin offering (Lev 16:5). The provision of this sacrifice by God (the author of all life) points to Him as the One we must receive from if we are to find forgiveness.
A goat was sacrificed as part of the sin offering on the Day of Atonement and a second goat, (known as the scapegoat), was then released into the wilderness (Lev 16:8ff) after the priest had confessed the sins of Israel over the scapegoat. This symbolised God’s taking away of Israel’s sin. In Jesus we see God’s sin bearer, the One who carried our sin and allows us to walk in freedom.
“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
2 Corinthians 5:21
Another Old Testament word relating to forgiveness is ‘Sallach,’ which speaks of ‘sending away’ or’ letting go’ and is always used in the context of what God has done. This picture is then carried through to the N.T. (aploou and Charisoma) where we again see a setting free; a letting go. Through the work of Christ we have been lifted out of debt. We have been cleansed, renewed and are raised up and seated in heavenly realms (Eph 2:6, PS 40:2-3). God wants to forgive us, God wants to make us whole, God wants to lift us out of the mud and mire and help us become the man or the woman He always intended us to be. Our work in all of this is to confess our need and receive.
“Religion is more than an aid in the development of the merely human; its goal is to raise the human to the level of the holy.”
Freedom to Forgive
The incredible truth is that through no merit of our own we have been set free in Christ, with a freedom that is to be lived out in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor 3:18). This freedom will be seen in a willingness to put God first, changing attitudes and the way that we reach out and care for others – even those who have wronged us as the following story, taken from the book, ‘Miracle on the River Kwai clearly reveals. Ernest Gordon (the author) who was a prisoner of the Japanese in the Second World War in the camp made famous by the film ‘Bridge over the Kwai. This passage is taken from a time when the Japanese were beginning to realise they might lose the war and had started moving POWs into different camps. The event occurs during a train journey.
“...Further on, we were shunted on to a siding for a lengthy stay. We found ourselves on the same track with several car-loads of Japanese wounded. They were on their own and without medical care. No longer fit for action, they had been packed into railway trucks, which were being returned to Bangkok. Whenever one of them died en route, he was thrown off into the jungle. The ones who survived to reach Bangkok would presumably receive some form of medical treatment there. But they were given none on the way.
They were in a shocking state I have never seen men filthier. Their uniforms were encrusted with mud, blood and excrement. Their wounds were sorely inflamed and full of puss, crawling with maggots. The maggots however, in eating the putrefying flesh, probably prevented gangrene.
We could understand now why the Japanese were so cruel to their prisoners. If they didn’t care a tinker’s damn for their own, why should they care for us? The wounded men looked at us as they sat with their heads resting against the carriages waiting fatalistically for death. They were the refuse of war there was nowhere to go and no one to care for them. These were the enemy, more cowed and defeated than we had ever been.
Without a word, most of the officers in my section unbuckled their packs, took out part of their ration and a rag or two, and, with water canteens in their hands, went over to the Japanese train to help them. Our guards tried to prevent us, but we ignored them and, knelt by the side of the enemy to give them food and water, to clean and bind up their wounds, to smile and say a kind word. Grateful cries of “aragatto!” (Thank you) followed us as we left”
We are all called to forgive people and this does not mean that people are not called to account. We are called to love the sinner and hate the sin.
“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”
Forgiveness does not forget the need for justice
“Forgiveness is not denial or indifference, pardon, reconciliation, condoning, excusing, passive forgetting, weakness, or an interpersonal game….Forgiveness in no way cancels the crime, but it works to take care of the distortions caused by the unhealthy aspects of anger and resentment so that the person may achieve peace of mind and body.”
The Baker Encyclopaedia, p 468
When we forgive people we are not forgetting about justice. What we are doing is refusing to act in the same way we have been treated, having made an active choice to put God first. God calls us to forgive because we are His kingdom people and the heart of His Kingdom is sacrificial love. He came and paid for our sin and we have no right to withhold forgiveness from the sinner which, as already said, does not mean forgoing justice.
Forgiveness is an amazing gift to receive, yet as we are all only too aware, it is not always so easy to give. One man who found it hard to forgive is the Father of Mary Karen Reid who died in the Virginia Tech shooting. Yet Mary’s father was to receive help with forgiveness in an unexpected way: from his daughter who had just died. This help came when he read the last entry Mary made in her diary on the day she would enter heaven. She wrote, “When deep injury is done to us, we never recover until we are willing to forgive. Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.” We must be willing to forgive.
When we don’t forgive
If we do not deal with what has happened to us through bringing it to Jesus we can end up internalising our bitterness and pain which is then like a fuel that empowers our emotions and actions as we take it out on others. In doing so we make others our scapegoat: a means of trying to make ourselves feel better. Yet this does not work and makes matters worse because it creates distance between us and God. We entered God’s kingdom through receiving forgiveness whilst deserving nothing but judgement. If we are to benefit from all that God has done then we must forgive – there is no option.
God is a generous giver, and is not half-hearted when it comes to forgiveness, as is seen in the ultimate sacrifice of His Son. God’s willingness to forgive is seen in the way He reasons with a wayward Israel (Isaiah 1:18) and running out to greet the prodigal son who then receives the best robe in the house (Lk 15:22-23). God wants to help us deal with sin and can remove it as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). Likewise, we are commanded to forgive. Let us now turn to look at the first place where we read the word ‘forgive’ in the Bible.
Joseph – a forgiving man
In scripture the first usage of the word ‘forgive’ occurs at the end of Genesis, in the words of Joseph’s brothers. The brother’s father Jacob had died and they believed that the only reason Joseph had not killed them for what they had done to him was because of their dad. Despite the fact that Joseph had told them he held no grudge (Gen 45:5,8f), they were going to carry this nagging doubt around for the next seventeen years; “It must be because of dad that we are still alive.”
This thinking had now risen to the surface in the minds of Joseph’s brothers after the funeral of their father Jacob, which was attended by most of Pharaoh’s court (Gen 50:5.9). The brothers needed to act quickly and a plan was concocted with words being placed on a dead man’s lips as a lie was birthed in the presence of Joseph.
“When Joseph's brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, "What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?" So they sent word to Joseph, saying, "Your father left these instructions before he died: 'This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.' Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father." When their message came to him, Joseph wept.”
Before looking at these verses in more detail, we turn to look at some of the suffering that Joseph had gone through at the hands of others – suffering that could have destroyed him.
Joseph was brought up in a household where with women vying for their husband’s attention and servants being used as tools to produce children in order to put Rachel and Leah in better standing with Jacob (in their eyes!).
Joseph was known as a favourite and as a young man brought back detrimental reports of some of his brothers’ activities (Gen 37:1-4). All of this would have brought about an ever-increasing animosity and jealousy, as would the coat of many colours given to Joseph by Jacob.
As if this was not enough, the brothers’ then find Joseph informing them (with a total lack of tact) of his dreams, with the first dream revealing he would rule over them. In addition to this, the second dream (37:9-11) pointed to Jacob and Leah also coming before him. All of these events fuelled a developing hatred in Joseph’s brothers, so much so that they wanted to kill him. One day Joseph was sent out to his brothers and found that they had moved 20 miles from Shechem (where he had expected to find them), to a place called Dothan, meaning two wells.
The brothers wanted to kill Joseph, but Reuben eventually asserted his authority as the eldest son and prevented this from happening. Joseph was then thrown into a dry well with Reuben intending to rescue him later (Gen 37:22). When Reuben was not present the brothers sold Joseph to a passing caravan of Ishmaelite’s (v25) and Midianites (v28). Judah encouraged this to happen, possibly as a means of saving Joseph’s life (Gen 37:26).
Think of the ups and downs and the turmoil of Joseph’s life. He was favoured by his father and ended up in a pit due to the bitterness and resentment of his brothers. He was sold into slavery and given a high position and favour, yet ended up in prison due to the lies of a woman. He was given a measure of responsibility, yet was ignored for two years by the one he helped and encouraged. But was Joseph a forgiving man?
Although there are no words to show that Joseph forgave Potiphar’s wife or the man who forgot him once out of prison, we see that the way Joseph conducted his life points to him as having done so. A good tree produces good fruit and on all occasions we see a man who respected and was open to the needs of others, despite what he was going through. A person who does not forgive others is not able to live this way. Instead, they allow what others have done to them to continue to hammer away at their lives as they go over the event again and again.
Through failing to forgive we can become victims to events that may be well past their sell-by date. The past hurt and pain inflicted by others then becomes part of our future. This future cripples and distorts our view of life because we are increasingly consumed by events we cannot change and remain weighted down with feelings of resentment, guilt and bitterness. What we need to realise is that whilst we cannot change all the things that have happened to us we can still change for the better as we learn to forgive.
“Forgiveness is important in whatever form it takes or level at which it operates. Forgiveness is about relationships, about improving relationships, about restoring relationships. This alone makes it important. In our litigious culture and age of war, hostility and divorce, learning how to mend and repair relationships must be important.”
K. Richards in, ‘Forgiving Hitler’ page 5.
When we fail to forgive we imprison ourselves with our pain and desire for revenge and become so introverted that we stop seeing what is going on around us. Let us remember, victims can be those who continually want to receive, but never give! Joseph was not like this, although in a worldly way, he had every reason to be.
Joseph was not closed in on himself and therefore he was open to the Lord and could see the struggles of those around him and give out to others. Those who don’t forgive others and those who live as victims rarely give out anything good! However, those who can forgive and move on shine brightly and encourage others as is seen in the following story which encouraged me greatly.
“When Allied troops liberated the Ravensbruk concentration camp in 1945, they stumbled onto the indescribable horror of the Nazi Molech-machine in which 92,000 women and children had died. But they also came across signs of unquenchable faith. The following words were found written on a piece of wrapping paper near the body of a dead child: “O Lord, remember not only the men and women of goodwill, but also those of ill will. But do not remember the suffering they have inflicted on us, remember the fruits we brought thanks to this suffering; our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility, the courage, the generosity. The greatness of heart which has grown out of all this. And when they come to the judgement let all the fruits that we have borne be their forgiveness.”
Oz Guinness in, ‘No God but God’ page 92.
Why live as a victim?
If Joseph had lived as a victim he could have ended up more focused on what had happened to him and allowed these events to define Him rather than the word of God.
I remember talking to a young woman a few years ago who had been abused and was very depressed. In our conversation I asked her if she viewed herself as soiled goods, stained and different from everyone else around her. She replied that she often thought of herself in this way. She was not a Christian, yet healing started to come into her life as she came to realise that she was allowing this event to dominate her life and define her. In then hearing about what Jesus had done for her, she committed her life to Him.
When Christians continually relive events and let them define us as we cope with them in our own strength, it is as if we are saying that what we have gone through is more powerful than God. Yet God wants to help us with the healing process and part of our healing is to forgive those who have damaged our lives. In forgiving others, many come to realise that they were like prisoners chained to the past, yet now free in Christ. Don’t let the past, no matter how bad it has been, define your life or prevent you from coming to God and living His way; don’t become consumed by events you cannot change.
All of the pain and hardship in Joseph’s life could have imprisoned him and turned him into a man who resented his brothers, Potiphar’s wife and the high-profile wine-taster who forgot how Joseph had helped him once he’d left prison. Yet Joseph did not allow the events around him, or his response to them, rule his life. In each situation he turned to God.
A good tree that is rooted in the right soil will produce fruit (Psalm 1:1-3, Mt 7:18; 13; 23) and Joseph was rooted in the promises of God. No matter what we have gone through, or what we are facing at present, it is possible to know the peace and presence of the Lord as the following story clearly shows.
Boris Kornfeld, a Jewish surgeon, was imprisoned in Siberia where he treated staff and prisoners. There he met a Christian whose daily reciting of the Lord’s Prayer had a profound impact on him. One day while repairing the slashed artery of a guard, he seriously considered suturing it so that the guard would die slowly of internal bleeding. His hidden anger so shocked him that he found himself praying, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those that trespass against us.” After that he refused to obey any inhumane or immoral prison camp rule, even though doing so could cost him his life.
One afternoon while examining a patient, who’d undergone an operation, Kornfeld saw in the man’s eyes such a depth of spiritual misery that he told his entire story, including his secret faith in Christ. That night Boris Kornfeld was murdered as he slept. But his testimony wasn’t in vain. The patient who heard it became a Christian as a result. That patient’s name was Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Nobel Laureate, whose writing exposed the horrors of Russian prison camps and ultimately saved the lives of multitudes. It’s a mistake to do nothing because you can only do little!
UCB booklet: ‘Overcoming Anger and Resentment’.
Don’t take the moral high ground
Sometimes when people offer forgiveness to others they then spoil it by taking the moral high ground and forever look down on the person who has offended them. This has nothing to do with the love of God, who tells us that love is to keep no record of wrongs (1 Cor 13:5). Through Christ the words of the Psalmist ring true, “As far as the eastern horizon is from the west, so he removes the guilt of our rebellious actions from us.”(Psalm 103:12). An example of this love is seen in that the person who denied Christ on three occasions, is the very one that our Father calls to speak the first sermon in Acts – Peter. Love keeps no record of wrongs.
“When Thomas Edison and his staff were developing the incandescent light bulb, it took hundreds of hours to manufacture a single bulb. One day, after finishing a bulb, he handed it to a young errand boy and asked him to take it upstairs to the testing room. As the boy turned and started up the stairs, he stumbled and fell, and the bulb shattered on the steps. Instead of rebuking the boy Edison reassured him and then turned to his staff and told them to start working on another bulb. When it was completed several days later, Edison demonstrated the reality of his forgiveness in the most powerful way possible. He walked over to the same boy, handed him the bulb, and said, “Please take this up to the testing room.” Imagine how that boy must have felt. He knew that he didn’t deserve to be trusted with this responsibility again.”
K. Sande in, ‘The Peacemaker’ pages 173-4.
We are not called to forgive others because they deserve it, but because Christ has forgiven us, and He tells us to offer the same grace to others. To want to forgive others because of Jesus means experiencing the enabling power and presence of His Spirit helping us as we do so.
In forgiving others we may find unexpected healing and wholeness for ourselves, since it is well know that those who do not forgive place unnecessary stress and pressure on their lives.
I once knew a teacher who had been hit by a bus two years prior to our meeting. She was now left walking with a stick and struggling with poor health. She was embroiled in a lengthy court case, yet her biggest problem was a lack of forgiveness. As we spoke about her difficulties she realised the need to forgive and also chose to let go of the court case. Within a few weeks this woman who had been told she would never get any better was completely healed and heading back to a new job.
Back to Joseph
Joseph became one of the most powerful men in the then most powerful nation in the Middle East, (I wonder how Potiphar’s wife now felt about that!). If Joseph had harboured a grudge against his brothers and had only withheld judgment out of respect for Jacob, he could have had his brothers put to death in a millisecond once Jacob had departed: instead, he sought to raise them up from their biggest problem – themselves. In Joseph’s reply we see amazing grace and an acknowledgment of a much bigger picture. We also see that he wanted the very best for his brothers.
In speaking with his brothers in the way that he did we also see that Joseph chose to view life from God’s perspective, rather than let it be defined and controlled by some of the things that had happened to him.
Forgiving others is a choice we have to make and it is not dependent on changing circumstances. We do not forgive for personal gain or because we expect a good response from the other party. We forgive because we have been forgiven so much and are called to forgive.
“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”
The One who forgave us and accepted us through Christ knew of every single occasion in our lives when we would let Him down – yet still came for us and forgave us when we came to the place of repentance. God forgave us because forgiveness is based on the work of Christ and not our personal performance. This amazing picture of forgiveness contains the idea of removing a penalty, covering our lives in protection and lifting us out of existence and into life with a heavenly Father. Let us always remember that, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” Psalm 103:12
“A helicopter pilot once told me of a magnificent experience he’d had when he was flying a police helicopter. For the first and only time in his life, he said, he saw a complete rainbow. All we usually ever see in a rainbow is an arc with one end (or both) fixed to the earth. But this is only half the rainbow because a rainbow is circular. He said, ““When I was in just the right position at just the right spot in that heavenly prism I not only saw it but I flew through it and around it. It was a once-an-a lifetime moment”, he said, “As I was entering into this rainbow.” So there’s not a pot of gold at the end of it? I joked. “No, “he said, “Because there is no end to it.”C. Swindol in, ‘Joseph’ p 204.
Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world”!
We have been saved because of God’s grace and generosity, are being saved because of God’s grace and generosity and will one day receive the fullness of salvation in Him – because of His grace and generosity. It is this amazing generosity and grace in the presence of the Holy Spirit that helped a man called Robert Rule in a situation he never thought he would ever face: standing in the courtroom opposite Gary Ridgway, the man who had murdered his daughter. After sentencing some of the relatives of Ridgway’s victims, were allowed to voice their feelings. Robert Rule had this to say:
“Mr Ridgway…there are people here that hate you; I am not one of them. You’ve made it difficult to live up to what I believe and that is what God says to do and that is forgive. You are forgiven sir.”
Our lives are a gift from God (Rom 6:23, 1 Pet 1:3-4), and we are not to live them independently from Him. The ability to forgive in a way that keeps no records of wrong (1 Cor 13:5) and has no thoughts of moral superiority over those forgiven, comes from the One who has reconciled us to Himself. From this we see that the basis for forgiving others is not their repentance or remorse. Instead it is because we have been forgiven and are living right now in the fruit of this forgiveness; a forgiveness we did not earn and cannot maintain in our own strength (Eph 4:32). Therefore, first and foremost, forgiveness is a decision based on what has been done for us by God, and not by what has been done to us by others. Yet even in forgiving others there is great help and support from God. As Paul writes, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Phil 4:13). The presence and power of the Holy Spirit is always with us to help us lead kingdom lives (2 Peter 1:3), but we have to be willing to accept this help.
“God gives us everything we need for life and godliness but it is up to us to make use of the provisions (2 Peter 1:3-4). God wants us to pursue holiness but his will for us can be frustrated by our unwillingness to cooperate. Holiness cannot be attained without the Spirit but the Spirit cannot sanctify us without cooperation.”C. Pinnock in, ‘Most Moved Mover’, page 167
Forgiveness: a neglected power in counselling?
In our western society there are many who find great support from counselling. Yet when I hear of people going for help year in and year out I have to ask the question: is it really dealing with the heart of the issue and does the client really want to get better? Whilst counselling may be helpful to many I wonder how much time is given to learning to forgive and receive forgiveness.
'Clients need to repent: Usually when forgiveness has taken place, they are in a position to see how much they have contributed to their own pathology. They choose to hold on to anger and resentment, they choose to hate. They choose to be morally superior, to wallow in self-pity. And they can see how they have hurt others: sometimes in retaliation, but many times harming innocent people. Most of us remember ten times we have been hurt for every one time that we have hurt others. In our account books, we only keep one side of the ledger carefully: what others have done to us.'
Prof Oz Guiness in, ‘No God but God’ p 105
God’s law of love states that I am to love Him with all my heart, soul and strength (Deut 6:5; Mt 22:37) and that I am to put others before myself. When I think about this I realise how far I fall each day; especially when God reads the heart and not just the actions! Yet this honest acknowledgement, though uncomfortable at times, can be a great blessing.
Solomon’s honest prayer
In 1 Kings 8 we read of Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem with a prayer that begins and ends with blessing (1 Kings 8:14-21, 55-61). The prayer was a confession of faith and trust in the Lord (Prov 3:5-6), rather than self. It was made at the temple which spoke of God’s localised presence with His people in the house of prayer for all nations (Is 56:7; Mk 11:17). In Solomon’s prayer we see brutal honesty – an honesty that we should have in all that we do and say to God.
Despite all that God had done, Solomon was acutely aware that Israel was prone to straying and in continual need of forgiveness and reconciliation (1 Kings 8:30,34,36,39,50). Israel’s defeat by her enemies, poor health and the effects of drought, were often the result of a failing relationship with God. Yet some of these events (e.g. defeat by enemies) were also brought about by a gracious God who allowed them to reap what they had sown as a means of bringing them to repentance.
Whilst we would not be so foolish as to think that everything which goes wrong in our lives is because we fail to forgive others, we do need to recognise that some of our difficulty may because of this. We need to be honest and acknowledge that we can stray in so many areas and end up justifying things that have no place in God’s kingdom – such as a lack of willingness to forgive.
As the ‘forgiven ones’ we are called to reveal the power of the Kingdom of God in the way we reach out to others as we move in the power of the Holy Spirit and forgive unconditionally. Sadly many churches are crippled through its members holding grudges and refusing to forgive those who have wronged them. In doing so they have forgotten how much has been done for them along with the command to forgive.
“To be a people capable of accepting forgiveness separates the church from the world. The world, under the illusion that power and violence rule history, assumes that it has no need to be forgiven…. being a community of the forgiven is directly connected with being a community touched by the narratives we find in scripture, as those narratives do nothing less than manifest the God whose very nature is to forgive.
Dr S. Hauerwas in ‘A Community of Character’, p 69.
As Christians we are the most forgiven people on earth (Heb 10:16-22) and we are commanded to offer forgiveness to those who, like us, often get it wrong. In forgiving others we are able to prevent the past (theirs and ours) from dominating and defining our lives. Remember: Forgiveness is founded in the very character of God and we are called to be like Him. The forgiveness that we offer to others does not necessarily restore relationships with those around us, nor should we assume that it will. Yet, it does bring us deeper into the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. It can also bring about healing in those areas which we often keep fenced off through not forgiving – fenced off areas that paradoxically spread into the rest of our psyche and stain our thinking.
“We must decide – and be willing – to forgive those who have hurt us in the past. This is often difficult because it means letting go of what others owe us. If they have done us wrong, to forgive them is not only to cancel that debt but to renounce moral superiority. Forgiveness is a complex process that involves many stages, as different aspects of resentment and hatred surface over time. But however difficult, forgiveness is absolutely essential if clients – if any of us – are to be freed from the past.”
Prof Oz Guiness in ‘No God but God’ p105
Forgiving means relinquishing our ideas of power
There are times when we find it hard to forgive others because we don’t want to relinquish the power we think we have over those who have offended us. If you want to know what that ‘power’ looks like then just read the following.
“I can now hold you at arm’s length, I don’t have to be nice to you and I can gossip about you because you are a lesser person: I am better than you – I am more powerful.”
In thinking and acting this way the only power we have is the power to destroy ourselves.
The real and only way to experiencing healing power is to forgive those who have hurt us and hand the whole situation over to the Lord and therefore a decision has to be made because forgiveness is about decisions and not emotions. We are commanded give forgiveness to others and do so not as a means of making ourselves feel better, or to look good in front of others. We forgive because this is the way sons and daughters of the kingdom are called to live. As Moroslav Volf, a Croatian theologian, who suffered greatly, once said,“Jesus said: (Acts 20:35) “It is more blessed to give than to receive…we are called to give forgiveness, not reward people with it! “
Moroslav Volf in, ‘Free of Charge.’
What Moroslav Volf means when he says we don’t reward people with forgiveness is that we don’t wait until people ask for forgiveness before we give it to them as a reward. We forgive because we are called to forgive.
We are all made in the image of God, though fallen and all across this world there are those who have little or no knowledge of Christ and yet are able to forgive. How much more forgiving then should we be, as those who have received so much?
A Jewish Christian named Ilan Zamir hit and killed a thirteen-year-old boy who darted in front of his car. He later found out the boy could not hear his car horn due to being deaf. Ilan wanted to seek forgiveness from the boy’s family who were Arabs on the West Bank. A local pastor eventually arranged for a Sulha – a covenantal meal of reconciliation. Ilan describes what happened at the meal.
“The cups of coffee remained on the table, untouched. According to tradition, the father would be the first to taste from the cup as a sign that he accepted the reconciliation gesture, and had indeed agreed to forgive. The tension on his face had cast a shadow on the proceedings until then, but at that point, he suddenly began to smile. The lines of grief softened. He looked at me squarely and his smile broadened as he moved towards me, opening his arms in a gesture of embrace. As we met and embraced, he kissed me ceremonially three times on the cheeks. Everyone began to shake hands with one another as the father sipped coffee. The whole atmosphere was transformed, the tension at an end.” A spokesman for the family then turned to Ilan with an invitation: “know, O my brother that you are in place of this son who has died. You have a family and a home somewhere else, but know that here is your second home"
A. Spangler in ‘Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus’ pages 138-9
Freeing up our thinking
A recent television series called “Secret Horders” highlighted the problems some people experience when recycling everything under the sun and never throwing anything away. In one programme a middle-aged couple were eating their main meal in their bedroom because all other rooms were taken up with junk. Although they had agreed to go on the programme they were not willing to admit that the clutter was junk and therefore were not able to free up space in their home.
When we refuse to forgive other people, or acknowledge that we have a problem forgiving or receiving forgiveness we end up giving space in our mind to the issues at hand and then give them a wide birth. Instead of finding freedom we are like the couple above who live and eat in one room because they won’t accept the truth. The past then continues to produce its fruit in the present and we quench the healing work of the Holy Spirit.
“In renouncing at one stroke all the fruits of the past without exception, we can ask of God that our past sins may not bear their miserable fruits of evil and error. So long as we cling to the past, God himself cannot stop this horrible fruiting. We cannot hold on to the past without retaining our crimes, for we are unaware of what is most essentially bad in us.”
S. Weil in, ‘Waiting for God’, p 149
In every way God is willing to help us find forgiveness and to forgive others. The question is are we willing to trust Him with all that we are going through and accept that His ways are always right no matter how we feel?
“…..For a model I must look to Jesus, who hates the sin but loved the sinner. Though He openly declared God’s laws, somehow he conveyed them with such love that he became known as the friend of sinners. Do we drive people away from the rush of God’s love because our ideas of what behaviour should be? Rules about behaviour certainly have a function: the Bible swells with them. But they are meant to be worn on the inside, not on the outside as a display of superiority.”
Dr P. Yancey and Dr P. Brand in’ Fearfully and wonderfully Made’, p 113
The road to a healthier mind includes understanding the amazing grace that enables us to experience forgiveness and reconciliation with God and a willingness to forgive those who sin against us. No one is saying this is going to be easy – especially if we have lived a life of resenting others who have hurt us or seeing those who have hurt us carrying on as if nothing has happened. Yet it is possible in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit to forgive; the question is, do we want to travel this road? Only you can answer this question but for my part I will say that I have worked with many people who, in learning to forgive others, have found great blessing and sometimes unexpected healing, release and wholeness.
“Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”
This completes part one of two.