“Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” – Matthew 18; 21,22From Martin Hayward:
I suspect that most people in the street would say that although forgiveness can be a two-way transaction, it is the one who receives forgiveness who benefits the most. But ask a Christian (or a psychologist) and they might answer that it is the forgiver (and maybe society at large) who gets the most out of it. You only have to look at the circles of violence between gangs and sects and countries to see why that may be true. Those who suffer terrible hurt and loss – even the death of a loved one – can carry cancerous and bitter resentment which simply eats them up and leads to retaliation and the continuance of violence. Their own bitterness adds to the hurt they suffer.
Compare that with the headlines that went round the world in 1994 after a terrorist bomb killed 10 and injured 63 others attending a memorial service in Enniskillen in Northern Ireland. Among the dead was Marie Wilson whose father, Gordon, said only hours later, that angry words could neither restore his daughter nor bring peace. “I will bear no ill will, I bear no grudge for that will not bring her back… But I know there has to be a plan. If I didn’t think that, I would commit suicide. It’s part of a greater plan and we shall meet again.” Weeks later he said, “I do my very best in human terms to show forgiveness, but the last word rests with God.”
The simple and observable fact is that those who have suffered wrong and continue to bear grudges against those who caused their pain allow the hurt to bite deeper and deeper into their lives, twisting and deforming their personalities and happiness. Those who forgive, on the other hand, eventually manage to move on towards happier and more fruitful lives.
In contrast to the premeditated hurt a bomber causes, most of the minor day to day slurs which we nurse and allow to fester and eat us up arise from actions that the perpetrators might not have even realised that they had committed. As ever, Jesus showed the way from the cross when he made that prayer, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”
Forgiveness is an act of love – and loving someone often takes an act of will. It involves a conscious choice not to store a record of wrongs to use against another (1 Cor 13;5) and stands in stark contrast to the bearing of grudges. As the Scottish writer, George Macdonald, said: “It may be infinitely worse to refuse to forgive than to murder, because the latter may be an impulse of a moment of heat whereas the former is a cold, deliberate choice of the heart.”