Many of us struggle with the word “forgiveness”. If we have not already experienced the need for forgiveness, we can imagine scenarios of life that we would not like to experience because it would require a great amount of forgiveness unto the person or persons who offended.
Studies have shown that forgiveness is good for our mental and physical health, and our overall well-being. However, forgiveness can be difficult because our knee jerk reaction is to do the opposite of forgiveness and seek revenge. Because of this, forgiveness is like an uphill climb, especially when the offense is great.
As a therapist, I often find that many of the cases that I encounter are related to unforgiveness. In most instances, we are willing to forgive those who offend us, and may do so, but the emotions of unforgiveness keeps resurfacing, resulting in thoughts of revenge or feelings of anger rather than peace.
As with most things that we value in this life, forgiveness is a process. First, we choose to forgive. Often, the level of the offense determines how long the process will take. Viktor Frankl, a Jewish psychiatrist during the holocaust, knew and understood the power of forgiveness. He lost his parents and wife at a Nazi concentration camp, where he was also tortured. In his biography, Frankl shared of finding in a pocket of a shirt that had been issued to him after his imprisonment, a paper torn from a prayer book that wrote: “Here O Israel The Lord Our God The Lord Is One”. From this, Frankl was inspired to maintain his sanity and existential mindset which became a part of his theory. He chose to forgive his offenders, and he learned to see suffering as an opportunity to learn the true meaning of our existence.
No one suffered as much as Jesus Christ. Romans 5:8 says: “…while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”. Because of the sin nature passed onto us from Adam and Eve, each of us have offended God and yet while we were still sinning, He forgave us. Perhaps this is the most important truth to remember when we are offended; that Christ who was sinless forgave us for our offenses, therefore we ought to be willing to forgive others when they offend.
Some may say my offense against others is not nearly as bad as the offense against me. Well, I believe sin can be described as being like a poisonous snake. When the snake is small, it is still poisonous, and it will eventually grow into a big snake. Therefore, a small offense can become a big offense if not repented of.
Fortunately, those of us who are in Christ are forgiven, but it is important for us to remember the benefits of forgiving others. It releases us from the bondage of anger and resentment, that can easily turn into bitterness. Instead of finding meaning in life, we risk becoming like the offender. Although it may be more challenging forgiving offenders who do not show remorse, it is certainly worth it because it helps us to see through God’s eyes instead of the eyes of bitterness and resentment.
In summary, forgiveness is a process that we must be willing to go through in order to experience life more abundantly. As Frankl said, no one wants to go through difficult times, or experience offenses. However, Jesus said, “Offenses will certainly come…” (Luke 17:1). Even so, we can consider it a good thing because these tests produce endurance, and if endurance is not abandoned it leads to becoming mature and complete, lacking nothing (paraphrase James 1:4). Therefore, it is important for us to forgive so that we will not become like the offender, and so that we can experience life more abundantly.