If you are offended, it is important to face the emotions that the offence has left in its wake. Feelings are not sin, and acknowledging the reality of them is not wrong. God already knows exactly how we feel; in acknowledging such feelings we bring them to the surface in preparation for letting go of them. Burying our feelings and denying their reality will cause us to by-pass true forgiveness and even magnify the pain brought on by the offence.
Bringing our emotions into the light of God’s grace makes it easier to look at them clearly and to see where they are leading us, as well as what they are telling us. Once we have acknowledged to God and to ourselves what we feel, the next questions are:
• Will we you choose to forgive despite how we feel?
• Will we wait until we feel like forgiving?
• Are we being sincere with your feelings?
• Are you really willing to allow God to work with our feelings: revamping, removing and restoring it?
• Will we continue wallowing in the pain and the misery of our bitterness to our own destruction (may the Lord forbid)?
When true forgiveness is at work in our lives, the outward extension of it to the offender is practically possible. Without true, wholehearted forgiveness, any impression created in that direction is counterfeit at best, and deceit and hypocrisy at worst. Many times forgiveness does not lead to reconciliation, because the offender has not repented and cannot ask forgiveness. On the other hand, when the offender does ask for forgiveness, it must be given. Jesus said, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says ‘I repent’, forgive him” (Matthew 18:22). “Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, until seven times: but unto seventy times seven” (Luke 6:36,37). “Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father is also merciful. Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not and ye shall not be condemned: forgive and ye shall be forgiven”. (Matthew 6:14,15). “For if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses”. Paul says: “Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye” (Colossians 3:13). In practice, this would certainly not be easy to do, but it is what Jesus has admonished us to do, and enables us to do, if we truly trust and have faith in him.
By freely forgiving again and again, we model the limitless forgiveness that God extends to us. Forgiveness is a gift that we offer to those who have offended us. We give out the gift; what the recipient does with it is up to him or her. A true gift is offered without any expectation in terms of remittance or compensation. The book of Proverbs as well as the gospel of Matthew reminds us that doing good to our enemies invariably brings the Lord’s blessings.
When we find that we still have memories of the past, we tend to question and wonder whether we have truly forgiven. But forgiving is not the same as forgetting: they are not the same virtue. However, God has promised in His Word that He will remember our sins no more, but He has not equipped us with the power to make that same statement. We can choose not to call to mind our hurts, not to dwell on the past or to be obsessed about what has been done to us. As humans, however, we may not have total control of our memories even though we may be able to let a memory fade away by not dwelling on it.
While Jesus was crucified on the cross he said: “’Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do’. And they parted his raiment and cast lots” (Luke 23:34). Likewise Stephen, when stoned, said, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, ‘Lord, lay not this sin to their charge’. And when he had said this, he fell asleep” (Acts 7:59,60).
Both the Lord Jesus Christ and Stephen, when at the point of death, prayed to God to forgive the sins of the people. It has happened that brethren and sisters sin against other brethren and sisters, and yet they do not pray for forgiveness of their sins. They only show hatred, jealousy and fault-finding.
Joseph’s brethren carried out evil against him, and many years later: “And when Joseph’s brethren saw that their father was dead, they said ‘Joseph will peradventure hate us, and will certainly requite us all the evil we did unto him’. And they sent a messenger unto Joseph, saying ‘so shall you say unto Joseph, Forgive, I pray thee now the trespass of thy brethren, and their sin: for they did unto thee evil: and now, we pray thee, forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of thy father’. And Joseph wept when they spoke to him. And his brethren also went and fell down before his face; and they said ‘Behold we be thy servants’. And Joseph said unto them, ‘Fear not: for am I in the place of God? But as for you, ye thought evil against me: but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive. Now therefore fear ye not: I will nourish you, and your little ones’. And he comforted them, and spake kindly unto them” Genesis 50:15-21). Joseph forgave his brethren, as Jesus forgave his brethren. God also forgives us, so we ought to forgive each other and talk kindly and not to speak evil against a brother or sister, for Jesus’ sake.
The more we rehearse a memory, the harder it is to let go of it and its accompanying emotions. Letting go of hurtful memories and feelings requires a daily renewal of the decision to forgive. Even if the forgiveness has actually taken place, memories of the circumstances surrounding an offence in the past may resurface momentarily in our mind. It should end right there and no longer find its way down into our heart as a consuming fire. At this point the offended has been able to completely release the offender and no longer hold anything against him.
May the Lord God greatly guide us all as we have taken that narrow and slippery road to that glorious Kingdom of the Lord. May the Almighty heavenly Father pour out His abundant showers of blessings upon us all.
Bro Joseph Oppong (Shama Junction, Ghana)