The Power of Forgiveness

By Marjorie F. Eddington

Categories: Expressing God, Forgiveness, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Esau, Jacob, Jesus' Commandment - To Love as He Loved

Have you ever hurt somebody and wished to be forgiven? Do you spend time thinking about how someone has wronged you? How do you forgive? People through the ages have wrestled with similar questions. Jesus and Christianity have changed the world with teachings of forgiveness.

When the Apostle Peter asked Jesus, "Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven." (Matt 18:21,22).

Jesus wasn't telling Peter to forgive someone 490 times and stop at 491. Rather, the numbers Jesus used were symbolic of infinity. We must forgive unconditionally and infinitely.

So, how do you describe forgiveness?
When asked, our Guest of the Month, Rob Miller replied:

I wrote an essay once where my mother forgot to bring cookies to school as she had promised. It was published in Chicken Soup for the Soul. I refused to forgive her. I went to my room, slammed my door, and buried my head in the pillow. She came up to the room and just sat there. I thought I heard her laughing, so I turned in anger. I realized she wasn't laughing; she was actually crying. And the second I saw my mother cry, I forgot all about being mad; I forgot about holding a grudge. All I knew was that my mother was crying, and I had caused that. In that instant I forgave her. And then I wanted to be forgiven at that point.

Let's further explore the power of forgiveness. To "forgive" means "to cease to feel resentment against; to pardon" (Webster). Rodale's Synonym Finder further adds: "harbor no grudge, bear no malice, make peace."

When we forgive, we are being "merciful, compassionate, humane" (Rodale's). We are

  • letting go of any grudges;
  • removing focus from past mistakes or problems;
  • dissolving any anger that we've been harboring;
  • being peacemakers.

What are the blessings of forgiveness?

  • We gain a better view of ourselves and others that does not include resentment.
  • We start the healing process.
  • We feel happier because we are no longer angry.
  • We are able to move forward with a greater sense of freedom.
  • We provide others with the opportunity to change and grow.

What if we don't seem to be able to forgive or don't want to forgive?
How important is our own happiness? Forgiveness plays a key role in maintaining joy. It is often helpful to recognize if someone meant to hurt us. The simplest way to find out and to keep ourselves from mentally replaying hurtful conversations and actions is to ask. If the person did not intentionally do us wrong -- which is usually the case -- and we have been thinking negatively about the person, we can more easily let go of grudges or hurt feelings.

But what if we think we are justified in feeling angry at someone for doing something that seems unforgivable?
There are ACTIONS that we certainly should not forgive. And we all need to take responsibility for our actions. But in order to progress, we need to separate the action from the individual and forgive the INDIVIDUAL, who is God's child, just like us. If we are having a hard time letting go of resentment, then we have to think about ourselves for a moment. We need to ask ourselves:

  • What is NOT forgiving doing to me?
  • If I hold onto the grudge, who am I really hurting?

What happens when we refuse to forgive or to ask for forgiveness?
We are hurting ourselves more than others. We've let the other person win! We have given that person power to ruin our day, week, or life. NO ONE has that power except us. When we relive the pain and remember the wrongs that were done to us, we become bitter, unhappy, angry, tense, and frustrated. And if we have hurt another, we often hold onto the guilt we feel. Our emotions are all bottled up inside. Often we may take our frustration out on those we love. They certainly don't deserve our anger. So what about those who we blame as the cause of our pain? Blaming others for how we feel and focusing on getting back at others robs us of time and happiness. Revenge and blame escalate problems. They certainly don't solve them. Jesus told us:

Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. (Matt 5:38,39)

So how do we turn the other cheek? How do we forgive?
The answer is simple: we love.

  • Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" (Mark 12:31) is one of the two greatest commandments that Jesus gave us.
  • Now while the answer is simple, loving someone who we think has made us miserable may be difficult. But it is necessary if we want to be free of pain and gain a sense of peace. Loving doesn't require becoming best friends with another, just that we see the other as God's child.
  • We might want to start by loving ourselves. Is there anything in ourselves that we have to forgive?
  • We have to forgive ourselves just as much as we need to forgive others if we want to move towards resolution, healing, and transformation.

What happens if we ask forgiveness from someone and he or she won't forgive us?
You can be confident knowing that you have done the best you could do. You have acted humbly and graciously. Those who refuse to forgive will just have to wrestle with their own anger, which, as we've already discussed, will hurt them. As we learn from the story of Jacob and Esau in the Bible, Jacob had some wrestling to do before his nature was transformed. He had to change his concept of himself and his brother. He had to take responsibility for his actions and forgive himself, and he had to confront his fears.

Rob Miller shares how the Jacob and Esau story reveals the power of forgiveness:

I've thought that I would be as furious as Esau was when he discovered that Jacob stole his blessing. But we don't really get to hear his side of the story. Rather than focus on Esau, the story reveals how Jacob's nature was transformed (Genesis 32: 24-30). Once Jacob changed, the same power changed Esau. Though there's not one word written about Esau saying, "I came to myself and realized I was overacting," we know that he forgave Jacob. When the two brothers met, there was a complete reconciliation, a complete dissolving of the hatred between them (Genesis 33:1-12). I'm impressed by the 2nd chance in life that God always gives us when we recognize our wrongs and are willing to turn from them as Jacob did. The end result of such forgiveness has to be transformation. In movie terms, there has to be a happy ending.

And what is the happy ending?

  • If we can love ourselves enough to let go of any anger that we are cherishing, then we have the freedom to forgive ourselves and others.
  • Such freedom enables us to experience a greater and more permanent happiness.
  • Forgiveness allows us to see ourselves and others as made in God's likeness.

Just as Jacob saw Esau, we, too, can see ourselves and others as God's children and say to those who have hurt us, "When I saw your face, it was as the face of God smiling on me" (The Message Genesis 33:10)