I don’t normally hold grudges. I’m usually a pretty easy going person overall and it takes a lot to offend me in any lasting way. That being said, when I am hurt or offended by someone, the result can be a deep-rooted and very nearly permanent disposition of vengeful and malicious indignation towards that individual. The last thing I wish to do is bless the insolent, rotten scoundrel who so wrongfully wronged me; especially if they see no need to ask for my forgiveness. Yet that is exactly what Jesus tells us to do!
Jesus spoke to them saying, “Bless those who curse you, and pray for those who hurt you.” ~Luke 6:28
I used to look at this verse and others like it thinking that of course I would forgive my enemies, after all they “know not what they do” and I would willingly be a martyr if it meant their salvation. Those thoughts, while noble, were very naïve and even misguided. Because they were still about me having all the glory. I never really understood the depth of what it would mean to forgive someone who physically, emotionally, or psychologically abused me. Forgiveness, in fact, wasn’t something I ever thought I needed to give because I have very rarely been abused in any sort of way (thanks be to God). It wasn’t until someone who had been a friend suddenly turned into an enemy that I recognized how difficult that reality truly is.
Forgiveness is hard, almost impossible, unless we understand the necessity of it for our own salvation. In the “Our Father” Jesus tells us to pray that God would “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” (Matt. 6:12). In that prayer we are actually asking that God be only as merciful to us as we have been merciful toward others. If we truly believe and understand the great magnitude of God’s forgiveness for us then we should be more than willing to forgive the mistakes of others.
How difficult it is though, to forgive a person when we feel our anger is totally justified. I mean, after all, they don’t really deserve to be forgiven. We might even be tempted to say that we have a righteous anger over the wrong that was committed. While it is possible to be angry and not sin, there is a difference between being angry over sinfulness and clinging to animosity for someone who has behaved unjustly. One is holy outrage over sin which goes against God’s mandate for us and one is centered on the self and is concerned over personal damages. Justice might demand an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth, but again Jesus says:
“But rather love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back…Be merciful, just as your Father is heaven is merciful.” ~Luke 6:35-36
Do we imitate God in how we treat our “enemies”? Or like the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:21-35 are we, who have been pardoned of a great debt to God, unwilling to forgive the small debt that someone owes to us? After all, we are all sinners none of whom deserve to be pardoned, except that God loved us enough to make it so. The mandate of God then is not that we should wait for the one who hurt us to come crawling back asking for clemency, but that we should choose to bless them with our prayers and good will regardless of their heart on the matter. The truth is, we can really do nothing to change the hearts of men. The only heart we have any power over is our own.
The most powerful weapons against a calloused and unforgiving heart are prayer and Confession. Prayer for the person who has done wrong. Blessing them with the love of Christ, because we all need mercy. Then also going to Confession for the anger that has been allowed to fester in the heart against that person. The more we practice this the more we discover the miraculous ability within ourselves to truly forgive.