For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6:12-15)
The desire to forgive those who hurt us does not come easy to most. Our tendency is to harbor resentment against people who’ve hurt us. What most of us don’t realize is that, in doing this, we’re only hurting ourselves.
“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” – Jesus’ simple request aimed at God seems straightforward enough. Billions of Christians have repeated it throughout the centuries. But how many of us actually do it? How many of us actually choose to forgive those who’ve hurt us, so that God can forgive us?
We are freed from pain not when the person we’ve hurt forgives us but when we choose to forgive someone whose hurt us. That’s because when we choose to forgive someone, God forgives (and thus heals) us, just like Jesus asked him to do.
How will we know if we’ve truly forgiven someone? First and foremost, our pain will disappear, and in its place we will feel peace in our hearts and compassion towards the person we’ve forgiven. That’s the presence of God’s spirit with us, indicating that we have been healed.
Keep in mind that choosing to forgive someone who has abused you doesn’t mean that you put yourself back into a position to be abused again. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean they’re not guilty of hurting you; it just means that you’ve chosen not to think or speak badly of them. If someone is chronically abusive towards you, stay away from that person. By putting yourself back into a position that allows your abuser to abuse you again, you become a co-conspirator in the abuse. That doesn’t make you a martyr; it just makes you part of the problem.
If a crime is committed against you, you should still follow the laws of the land (as long as they don’t contradict God’s laws) in reporting the crime. You can choose to forgive someone but still report that person to the police, if the crime warrants it.
Do we need to tell the person we’ve forgiven that they’ve been forgiven? Not at all; in fact, most people won’t want to hear that you’ve forgiven them, because most won’t believe they’ve done anything to be forgiven for. God knows you’ve made the choice to forgive, and that’s all (besides you) who really needs to know.
You cannot be hurt by someone unless you’ve first hurt someone. That is a law. You may not be hurt by the same person you’ve hurt, but if you want the pain to disappear, you still need to choose to forgive the person who hurt you. It sounds like a funny old system, but God makes it work.
You cannot pay your way out of forgiving someone (“I require mercy, not sacrifice”), nor can you pray your way out of forgiving someone. Asking God to forgive you is a waste of time; he’ll only forgive you when you’ve forgiven others. Confessing (that is, acknowledging) your sin is a good first step towards forgiveness, not absolution from it. You still must choose to forgive whoever has hurt you; otherwise, your sin (and your pain, which is the sign of your sin) will remain.
Forgiveness is actually one of my favorite topics because it’s how I was born again. Having chosen to forgive someone who was literally out to kill me, I was forgiven and healed by God. Needless to say, as an atheist, choosing to forgive my potential murderer wasn’t the first thing that came to my mind when I woke up every morning. But I did want the pain to stop. I wanted that more than anything else in the world. So when everything finally came to a head, God showed me that if I chose to forgive that one person, all my pain would disappear.
Very few people want to be told that the pain they feel is the pain they’ve earned. Most people would rather hear that they’re ‘victims’ who should be compensated for their suffering. I certainly used to believe I was a victim. Then God did me the favour of ingraining in my soul, at the instant of my rebirth, this eternal truth: The pain you feel is the pain you’ve earned. God doesn’t inflict pain on you; you inflict it on yourself by how you treat other people (including how you think about them).
You are not a victim. There was only one victim – Jesus. He is the only one who suffered pain he had not earned.
The best choice you will ever make is to choose to forgive.
“I require mercy, not sacrifice.”