The act of forgiveness mostly benefits the one doing the forgiving. However, getting to the place of forgiveness in real life can be a long and sometime arduous journey. When I’m hurt, I often want the other to hurt as much if not more than I did. Yet, if I hang on to the hurt, I discover that it has a way of rotting within me then festering into anger, resentment, and hate.
Only an act of forgiving the other can release me. Should I chose not to let loose of my pain through forgiveness, I find that I am the one in increasing pain, while the other seems to live life as if nothing ever happened.
Lewis Smede, several years ago in a book called The Art of Forgiving: When You Need to Forgive but Don’t Know How (1997) explored the nature of forgiveness. In his book he looked at the several levels at which we experience the hurt of offence or betrayal.
For example, when someone cuts us off in traffic, we are usually offended, but because this was an anonymous stranger (usually), we quickly let it go and move on with life. Such cases rarely involved the need for forgiveness.
However, if a stranger assaults us, we may find that this hurt is so great or so personal, that we will struggle with finding the place of forgiveness for this stranger because what happened us is deeper, more personal.
More likely, forgiveness is in order when there is a personal relationship—when someone hurts us who should have known better.
Sometimes, this is a very personal matter in that the person hurt us directly but sometime it is more indirect, such as when a person in a position of power and responsibility—who is suppose to protect me or at least act in my best interest—hurts another. In this kind of loss, there is the loss of innocence and trust that is hard to measure. The pain is real and it is as if it happened to me.
So why be concerned about issues of forgiveness? After all, the people who hurt others don’t deserve to be forgiven. Yet, as we noted above, “unforgiveness” binds the one that holds the grudge inside.
Yet, there is a deeper reason to forgive: it is the way of Jesus. The one who was betrayed, insulted, assaulted, and blasphemed in the worse possible way, still prayed, “Father, forgive them because they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
Because of Jesus, we now have the power to forgive because he has forgiven us—freely, fully, and forever.