How Hard It Is to Forgive - Yet We Have to Forgive
Rev. Fr. Luke A. Veronis
Why do we find it so hard to forgive others?
- Is it because we’ve been hurt in some deep way?
- Maybe because our pride has been offended and we don’t want someone else to get the best of us?
- Is it because the other person isn’t sorry for what they’ve done to us and they haven’t repented? Therefore, we don’t want to hear about forgiveness, we want to talk about punishment and retribution.
- Maybe we can’t forgive because the memory of what someone has done to us stirs up such anger and resentment and bitterness that we can’t get beyond these passions. We don’t realize that such bitterness and resentment is like poison to our souls, killing us instead of hurting the one we despise.
- Or maybe is it because we simply don’t think we need to forgive. Maybe we feel we are OK with whatever broken relationships we have; we’ve gotten so use to living without these people that we feel we can go on in life without them.
I’m sure there are other reasons why we don’t WANT to forgive others, or why we don’t think we CAN forgive others, or why we don’t think we NEED to forgive others. Maybe we’ve even convinced ourselves that it’s just not that important!
Well, today on the Sunday before Great Lent begins, the Church loudly proclaims that it is important, and that’s why we call today FORGIVENESS SUNDAY! And we must understand clearly that we CAN NOT begin our Lenten journey, no less continue in our Christian life, without forgiving one another, including forgiving that person with whom we really struggle. In fact, we can’t call ourselves a true follower of Jesus Christ, a sincere Christian, if we are unwilling to forgive one another!
St Silouan the Athonite put it bluntly, “If you forgive, it means that God has forgiven you; but if you do not forgive your brother, it means that your sin remains with you.”
Think about that for a moment, “If we do not forgive those who have hurt us, our sin remains with us!”
St. Tikhon of Zadonsk expressed it this way, “Love toward our neighbor is intertwined with love for God. When love toward our neighbor is destroyed, so is our love toward God. It follows that if we want to be reconciled to God and have peace with Him, we must first be reconciled with our neighbor, and then ask God for mercy. Until peace and love are restored between us and those we hate, God will not accept our repentance, nor our prayers, nor anything else from us.”
Ouch!!! That’s another very disturbing thought. Imagine that God won’t listen to us if we remain stubborn in our anger and bitterness and arrogance and hatred towards another.
Of course, Jesus Himself clearly taught His disciples this very lesson. When Peter asked our Lord how many times he had to forgive his brother, he thought he was being quite gracious when he suggested that he would forgive up to seven times. Yet Christ shocked Peter with his response. Not seven times, but 7 x 70!!! In other words, forgiving one another never ends. And to highlight this, he went on to tell the Parable of the Merciful King and the Unmerciful Servant. Remember the story? A King forgave his servant some insurmountable debt, in today’s terms a multi-million dollar debt, something the servant could never have possibly paid in his lifetime. And yet after receiving the King’s unbelievable mercy, that very servant showed no mercy to his fellow servant who owed him a tiny sum. When the King heard about his servant’s lack of mercy, he harshly reprimanded him, “You wicked servant. I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have shown mercy on your fellow servant just as I had compassion on you?” (Matthew 18:21-35).
When we stubbornly refuse to forgive the other, we place ourselves in quite an arrogant predicament. How dare we ask for or accept God’s mercy if we won’t show similar mercy to others? And remember, mercy is not something we deserve. It is undeserved grace!
In like manner, we forgive others not because they deserve it, but because God has first forgiven us. We respond to God’s mercy, not to someone else’s wrong deed or arrogant attitude towards us. Let me repeat that. The foundation of why we forgive others isn’t based on the other person at all. It is always based on God’s unfathomable mercy toward us. Whenever we can’t forgive someone, it clearly shows we don’t understand the love and mercy God bestows on us!!!
If that’s the case, then maybe we need to change the way we say the Lord’s Prayer every day. Instead of praying “Our Father, who art in heaven… forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” we should change the words and pray each day “Our Father, who art in heaven… DO NOT forgive us our sins, as we DO NOT forgive those who have sinned against us.”
Can anyone who truly claims to be a follower of Jesus Christ, who claims to be a sincere Christian offer such a prayer? Yet that is exactly how we should pray, if we are unwilling to forgive another!
“We are as close to God, as we are to our greatest enemy.” Think about that. Think about the person you can’t forgive, or who you won’t forgive. What is your relationship with them? Imagine, that describes your relationship with God!!
So, today on Forgiveness Sunday, the Church is asking each of us to honestly look at ourselves and ask the question: “Do we carry hatred, or bitterness, or anger, or resentment, or hurt and pain, that hinders us from forgiving someone else?” If so, today is the day to confess and repent. Today is the day to open our hearts for God’s Spirit to heal us and guide us in reconciliation. It may not be easy, and maybe those who have done wrong to us won’t even want to be reconciled. That’s beside the point. We can’t control how others will respond, we can only control what we will do. And today, we hear God asking all of us to forgive one another!
Remember, we cannot even begin, no less travel far, in our Lenten journey, nor in our Christian lives, if we don’t forgive and at least try to reconcile with one another! We forgive others because God forgives us!
As Orthodox Christians, our goal in life is to become one with God; to adopt the mind of Christ; to die to ourselves and have Jesus live in us. Ultimately, the more Christ lives in us and the more we become united to Him, the more His Holy Spirit will live within us and give us the heart and spirit to forgive one another. It may seem hard, and even impossible to forgive someone, yet that is what we do as Christians. That is what it means to be a Christian. That is who we are as followers of Jesus Christ! We forgive others because God forgives us!