Some people say that they cannot forgive…
Luke 6:37 – “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven”.
James 2:13 – “Judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment”.
I read Phillip Yancey’s book “What’s So Amazing About Grace?”, and decided to share my insight into the three reasons he gave as to why forgiveness is practical (not just because it’s required by our Lord)…
1) It improves the lives of the perpetrator and their children. People that injury others often feel a sense of guilt after-the-fact, despite how resolved they were in perpetrating the injury initially. Living with that guilt breeds low self-esteem and between that and the pain they feel, the perpetrator could build defense mechanisms to medicate/mitigate those effects. Finally, the sum of the guilt, pain, and medication rubs off on their children, teaching them that guilt and medication of emotional pain is normal. Forgiveness can release the perpetrator from guilt, allows the perpetrator to begin to heal and mitigates damage to their children.
2) It improves the lives of the victim and their children. People that are injured often are angry, feel a need for justice and lash back – or they often bottle up the pain and brood – where neither are emotionally healthy. Justice can usually never, by definition, “objectively” be meted out by the injured party or anyone on the side of the injured party. Bottling up the pain can also lead to poor self-esteem and/or medicating to relieve the pain. Forgiveness can release the victim from anger and pain, allows the victim to begin to heal and mitigates damage to their children.
3) It breaks the “getting even cycle” – thus improving the lives of the victim, the perpetrator, and all their children. When was the last time you were a perpetrator and got justice meted out to you? You got a speeding/parking ticket or an equipment violation and had to pay a fine. You wronged someone and they lashed out back at you. You broke something and had to pay for it. How many times did the “justice” dispensed to you feel “justified”? Again, just as justice can usually never be meted out objectively by the victim, it’s usually never perceived as justified by the perpetrator. History is replete with blood-feuds where each party strikes back to even the score – but the other side never seems to consider it “even”. And finally through all this we teach our children to hold grudges. Forgiveness breaks that cycle of getting even.
You may say that forgiveness is not fair. You would be correct. It’s not fair. But it is definitely an improvement over the alternative.
You may say that you can’t forgive someone that doesn’t truly want forgiveness. I would agree that if that’s the case, the perpetrator might not receive the benefit of bullet number 1 above. But you, as the victim, would still reap the benefits of 2 and 3 above.
You may say that you can’t forgive someone that has repeatedly injured you. I would say that forgiveness is all the more required – but you also have the right to build necessary boundaries to limit/prevent subsequent injuries. Good boundaries are designed not to punish or hurt the perpetrator, but to protect yourself.