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Been thinking a lot lately about forgiveness.
Now the usual sequence with this virtue, most of us have been told, is to “forgive and forget.” That’s what God does, according to scripture:
“Come now, and let us reason together,” says the Lord, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” (Isaiah 1:18 NKJV)
“For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:11-12)
Well, in case you had doubts, let me state this plainly, from personal experience: We humans are not God.
We can’t forget, short of electroshock therapy and/or a lobotomy, or some amnesia-producing head trauma. (Put down the hammer; I’m not suggesting any of those things).
We can forgive.
Usually, it’s a relatively simple proposition. You’re hurt, offended, maligned, etc., the person says they are sorry, you forgive them and move on.
Trust may eventually be rebuilt, or perhaps not. Relationships healed, or not.
The point is, you give up your perceived “rights” to revenge/punishment, and the miracle occurs – your spirit feels lighter for having left the anger on the trail of life behind you.
It’s tougher, though, when the offender doesn’t see his or her wrongdoing. Tougher still, when he or she delights in it and persists.
I know something of this. A toxic acquaintance from my past, though nearly two decades removed, periodically pops up to plague me through anonymous attacks. The litany of malevolent actions by this person toward me could fill a book. Even leaving the work setting we shared did not severe his personal hatred for me, nor his periodic, efforts to hurt me. Finally exposed, he remained gleefully, if pitifully, determined to continue.
Yet, I forgive him. Whenever the latest outrage surfaces, I am as human as anyone, angrily frustrated, marveling at the madness of it all. Then I remember my nemesis suffers from mental illness, disappointment over a shattered career, alcoholism and, I suspect, his own guilt.
I lift weights. I walk miles with the dogs. I pray. I forgive.
Sometimes, it is a daily exercise. Memories don’t go away. They will boil up from the depths unexpected. Burying them won’t do; forgiveness becomes an act of the will, every time, reinforced by the determination not to strike back in kind.
The hardest part? Having said the words, “I forgive,” to then pray for that person’s welfare; not pray for cosmic payback, but for his welfare and blessing.
It’s humbling, both as a spiritual exercise – and the realization that inside us all still resides the desire to strike back. Countering that is Christ’s command to unclench the fist.
After all, you cannot offer a handshake or a caress of comfort to anyone with a fist.