Simon, later to be known as Peter, was one of the twelve apostles chosen by Jesus. He was very surprised one day to hear Jesus talk about how important it was to forgive others. Jesus said that we should always forgive. Simon asked, “How often should we forgive, seven times seven?” “No,” said Jesus, “seventy times seven.” In other words, we must continue forgiving as often as we need to.
People, very often, have misconceptions about what is meant by forgiving. They think that in order to forgive someone who has wronged them, they should have nice warm fuzzy feelings towards that person. Nothing could be further from the truth! Forgiveness has nothing to do with one’s feelings towards the other person. To forgive means to make a decision. If someone says or does something very hurtful to me, I have a decision to make. I can decide to remain upset by what has been done to me, to hold on to the grudge and look for opportunities to get back at that person for what they have said or done to me, or I can make a decision to forgive–a decision to let that thing go, and not to hold it against the other person. I can decide to act towards that person as if the wrong had never been done to me.
There is an old cliche that says –forgive and forget. But that is an unfortunate statement, especially if the wrong done is a serious one. Can you imagine how you would feel if you were told to forget a serious wrong that has been done to you? Possibly. with the passage of time, the hurt will diminish, but in the immediate aftermath of the wrong done, you are certainly not going to forget! Jesus is asking us to make a decision with our mind to forgive the other person–to let the wrong go and treat that person just as we would if the wrong had never occurred! That can be very difficult, and very often, it will only be by the grace of the Holy Spirit that we are able to do it.
What may be an incentive to us in forgiving is to recall the words we say to the Lord when we pray the prayer we call The Lord’s Prayer. One of the petitions we make is “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us .”We are asking the Lord to treat us the same way as we treat others!
Now and again I find people saying to me that they thought that they had forgiven the other person only to realize that they had gotten angry all over again when a friend had reminded them of the hurt. I tell them they had made a sincere decision to forgive and that a fit of anger or annoyance does not change that. I use the analogy of a person who is cutting vegetables in the kitchen with a sharp knife. The knife slips, and they cut themselves badly and have to rush to the emergency room at the hospital. The doctor puts in five or six stitches. The person comes home, but it may take some weeks before the wound is healed. When someone does something to hurt us, our feelings may be badly hurt.
It will take some time for our feelings to catch up with our decision to forgive. Our wounded feelings are like the wound caused by the vegetable knife . They may take a long time to catch up with our decision to forgive.
“Forgive, and you shall be forgiven,” says the Lord.