by Johanna Radelfinger
Forgiveness defined in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is to give up resentment of or claim to requital for (forgive an insult) or to grant relief from payment of (forgive a debt); to cease to feel resentment against (an offender).
When the first missionaries came to Alberta, Canada, a young chief of the Cree Indians named Maskepetoon savagely opposed them. But he responded to the gospel and accepted Christ. Shortly afterward, a member of the Blackfoot tribe killed his father. Maskepetoon rode into the village where the murderer lived and demanded that he be brought before him.
Confronting the guilty man, he said, “You have killed my father, so now you must be my father. You shall ride my best horse and wear my best clothes.”
In utter amazement and remorse his enemy exclaimed, “My son, now you have killed me!” He meant, of course, that the hate in his own heart had been completely erased by the forgiveness and kindness of the Indian chief.
Why should we forgive anyway? First of all because God forgave us. Look up 1 John 1:9 (I¡¦m reading from the Clear Word). Now look up Luke 6:37. If God condemned us every time we sin; we would all be lost. Instead He sent his son to take that penalty for you and me. So if God forgives us, is it too much to ask for us to forgive each other. Go to Eph. 4:31,32. Another reason to forgive is because God told us to. He knows what is best for us.
According to the latest medical and psychological research, forgiving is good for our soul and our bodies. People who forgive:
a. benefit from better immune functioning and lower blood pressure.
b. have better mental health than people who do not forgive.
c. feel better physically.
d. have lower amounts of anger and fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression.
e. maintain more satisfying and long-lasting relationships.
“When we allow ourselves to feel like victims or sit around dreaming up how to retaliate against people who have hurt us, these thought patterns take a toll on our minds and bodies,” says Michael McCullough, director of research for the National Institute for Healthcare Research.
The last reason I’d like to point out to you is because Christ forgave when he was on this earth. Turn to Luke 23:34. Jesus forgave the people that hammered nails into his hands, spit at him and eventually killed him. Take note that He asked His Father to forgive them. He loved them (his enemies) enough to ask his Father to pardon them. For some reason that thought gives me the chills.
But what if I don’t want to forgive? Does anything happen? Yes something does happen. Not forgiving and holding a grudge can be tragic like this next story.
There was a merchant who had identical twin sons. The boys worked for their father in the department store he owned and, when he died, they took over the store. Everything went well until the day a dollar bill disappeared. One of the brothers had left the bill on the cash register and walked outside with a customer. When he returned, the money was gone.
He asked his brother, “Did you see that dollar bill on the cash register?”
His brother replied that he had not. But the young man kept probing and questioning. He would not let it alone.
“Dollar bills just don’t get up and walk away! Surely you must have seen it!” There was subtle accusation in his voice. Tempers began to rise. Resentment set in. Before long, a deep and bitter chasm divided the young men. They refused to speak. They finally decided they could no longer work together and a dividing wall was built down the center of the store. For twenty years hostility and bitterness grew, spreading to their families and to the community.
Then one day a man in a car stopped in front of the store. He walked in and asked the clerk, “How long have you been here?”
The clerk replied that he’d been there all his life.
The customer said, “I must share something with you. Twenty years ago I was ’riding the rails’ and came into this town in a boxcar. I hadn’t eaten for three days. I came into this store from the back door and saw a dollar bill on the cash register. I put it in my pocket and walked out. All these years I haven’t been able to forget that. I know it wasn’t much money, but I had to come back and ask your forgiveness.”
The stranger was amazed to see tears well up in the eyes of this middle-aged man. “Would you please go next door and tell that same story to the man in the store?” he said. Then the man was even more amazed to see two middle-aged men, who looked very much alike, embracing each other and weeping together in the front of the store. After twenty years, the brokenness was mended. The wall of resentment that divided them came down.
This story may sound silly but it actually happened. It is the little things that divide people. And the solution, of course, is to let them go. There is really nothing particularly profound about it. But for fulfilling and lasting relationships, letting them go is a must. Refuse to carry around bitterness and you may be surprised at how much energy you have left for building bonds with those you love.
Turn to 1 Cor. 2:10, 11. Paul says that forgiving each other is important. If we don’t, Satan can gain a foothold. Forgiveness is hard. But not forgiving leads to hurt bitterness, anger, resentment and self-destruction. It tears up families, ruins friendships and worst of all it can divide up a church. I think Satan’s trickiest and strongest tactic is to get Christians to not forgive. It doesn’t pay to keep records of “wrongs” or to hold grudges.
The pastor of an evangelical church near Orlando, Florida had been leading the same flock for more than twelve years. Things were running smoothly except for the fact that one member, an influential banker, was constantly questioning his authority on business matters. When the banker was nominated to become a deacon, the pastor stood before the congregation and said, “I don’t believe this man is qualified to be elected.” Then he read a long list of instances where the man had questioned his decisions. The congregation didn’t agree with him and voted the banker in. Soon everyone in his church thought lower of him. Eventually he resigned within six months. Don¡¦t be like this pastor. Letting anger take control of you.
Did you know that being angry (not forgiving) is a sin? I didn’t know that until I found a verse while doing this sermon. Turn back to Eph. 4:26.
It is all right to be angry. God gave you that emotion when something wrong or unfair happens to you or someone else. But don¡¦t sin by not forgiving and letting your angry take control.
Another reason to forgive is to help you. Not forgiving and holding a grudge against a person can eat at you like cancer.
A man awoke out of sound sleep one night, due to a recurring dream. The dream was always the same. He was swimming in a lake, and although a good swimmer, his arms and legs grew increasingly weary, and he feared he might not make it back to shore. Suddenly, as if out of nowhere, an elderly man who looked identical to his deceased father passed by in a rowboat. He stopped, held out his hand, but recalling how poorly his father treated him as a child, he smiled dryly and said,” No thank you, Dad. I’ll be OK.”
The man continued to frantically splash his way back to shore. Looking to the side, he saw yet another form in the distance. It was his daughter, swimming quickly toward him with a life preserver. “Here, dad! Put this on!” Remembering the many times his daughter disobeyed him as a rebellious teen, the man shook his head and waved his daughter on.
Upon finally making it to shore, the man collapsed from exhaustion in the wet sand. Conscious, yet unable to move, the man spied a large group of people around him. All the people looked familiar – faces of the many friends and relations he had come in contact with during his life. They offered to take him to the hospital, to bring him some warm clothes, or towel, but as each person spoke, the man recalled the many times that person did him wrong. “No thank you,” he said, “I will be fine.” The man stood up, brushed off his sandy, wet clothes, and walked wearily into the sunset.
After the third night of dreaming this same dream, the man sought the opinion of the only person he felt he could trust to not hurt him, his wise, old grandmother.
“What does the dream mean, gram?” He asked. The wrinkled and wise- looking woman sat in silence for several moments, and then finally spoke. “I’m no ‘dream-readin’ expert, sonny, but I’d say that someone is trying to tell you that you are holding in a lot of bitterness, due to an unforgiving attitude.”
The man pounded his fists on the table in indignation. “Bitter? Unforgiving? That is absurd! I should have known better than come to an uneducated woman like you!”
The old woman sat very still and calmly said, “There is more. I’m guessin’ that the struggle you encountered in the water is the same sort of struggle that you often feel inside. You WANT to reach out and take hold of a warm and caring hand, but no hand is good enough for you. You made it to the shore THIS time, but what about next time?” Red-faced and exasperated, the man stormed out of the room muttering to himself.
Forgiveness is not something we do for others; it is something we do for our SELF. Those who do not forgive others, who do not forgive easily, or who forgive on a conditional basis, slowly build up bitterness inside themselves.
Did you know that angels would never think of accusing us before God? Check out 2 Peter 2:11. When I discovered this verse it hit me hard. The angels watch us and protect us. Wouldn’t they know us better than humans would? But still they would cringe to even think of accusing us before God.
We on the other hand especially in our church families forget we are all under Jesus¡¦ blood. Humans make mistakes. None of us are above another. We should all forgive no matter how bad someone hurt us.
I know from personal experience that forgiving is very hard. The other day a friend hurt me. I didn’t know if I could trust him again. He apologized and I said I forgave him. But I still felt hurt. Then I got to thinking that everyone makes mistakes. Sometimes we forget that very fact. Satan wants us to be hurt and hold grudges against people. But God wants to remind us that humans aren¡¦t perfect. This story helped me.
Two friends were walking through the desert. During some point of the journey they had an argument, and one friend slapped the other one in the face. The one who got slapped was hurt, but without saying anything, wrote in the sand: “TODAY MY BEST FRIEND SLAPPED ME IN THE FACE.” They kept on walking until they found an oasis, where they decided to take a bath. The one who had been slapped got stuck in the mire and started drowning, but the friend saved him. After he recovered from the near drowning, he wrote on a stone: “TODAY MY BEST FRIEND SAVED MY LIFE.” The friend who had slapped and saved his best friend asked him, “After I hurt you, you wrote in the sand and now, you write on a stone, why?”
The other friend replied: “When someone hurts us we should write it down in sand where winds of forgiveness can erase it away. But, when someone does something good for us, we must engrave it in stone where no wind can ever erase it.”
Learn to forgive the bad and hold on to the good things that people do for you.
Lets say you have decided that forgiving is a good idea. But how do you really forgive someone? Go to Matthew 18:15. Forgiveness is an action.
Leonardo Da Vinci, just before starting on the “Last Supper” had a violent argument with a fellow painter. Leonardo was so bitter that he determined to paint the face of his enemy, the other artist, into the face of Judas, and thus take his revenge. In fact the face of Judas was one of the first faces he finished. The worst thing about it was that everyone could easily recognize it as the face of the painter with whom he had quarreled.
But when he came to paint the face of Christ, he could make no progress. Something seemed to be baffling him, holding him back, frustrating his best efforts. Finally he came to the conclusion that the thing that was frustrating him was that he had painted the face of his enemy onto the face of Judas. He decided to forgive and not take revenge. So he painted out the face of Judas and was then able to resume his work on the face of Jesus. This time though he painted Jesus face with the success that the ages have acclaimed.
When DaVinci moved past his right to take revenge and made the right response instead, he broke the power of hatred and allowed the love of Christ to have the last word….
There is another step in forgiveness called Reconciliation. This word means to restore a friendship. Sometimes though you can only forgive and it isn¡¦t possible to reconcile with someone. For example a Jew in a concentration camp can¡¦t go to the officer that beat her and try to reconcile. Because he is her enemy. But in a church family Christ urges us to reconcile. Turn to Matthew 18:15-17. If it is possible God wants us to reconcile. But He always wants us to forgive.
Why does God want us to forgive and reconcile with one another? Because forgiving and loving go together. Go to I Cor. 13:5. Notice love doesn’t keep a record of wrongs. God has told us many times to love one another. That also means to forgive too. Go to 1 John 4:7,8. If love comes from God then how can we possible love and forgive each other on our own. Forgiving by ourselves is impossible! The good news is in Luke 1:37. Check it out! If you don’t feel like forgiving, God can help you forgive that person completely.
God wants you to forgive. I have learned it is better to forgive. It improves your health to forgive. But it is YOUR choice to forgive.