The Miracle of Forgiveness

I have a problem forgiving others. You see, I don’t think it’s quite as simple as some people make it out to be.

I’m especially stunned when I hear people say they have forgiven people who have done them grievous injury, such as murdering their loved one, or molesting them when they were a child. How, I wonder, can they do that? Of course, I know the answer. It is a miracle. It is a gift of God. Not primarily to the sinner, but to the victims themselves.

It’s not that I don’t want to forgive. I truly believe life is healthier when we forgive. Add to that the fact that God in essence commands me to forgive – read the story of the unforgiving servant – and I am doubly challenged to learn to be a better forgiver.It is simply a fact that I am too sinful, too human, to simply press a button for a one-time decision and forgive.

I’m afraid I personally need to continue to pray daily for the ability to forgive and the grace to let go of disappointment and hurt, over and over again. This prayerful act may need to be repeated – as many times as necessary – up until I take my final breath.

But there is a place I can take some comfort despite my struggle. There is a refuge in which a wiser Christian than I, reminds me that I am not alone in experiencing forgiveness as a process. C.S. Lewis described this very predicament in his Reflections on the Psalms. I share the following in the hope that it may offer similar comfort to you.

There is no use in talking as if forgiveness were easy. We all know the old joke, “You’ve given up smoking once; I’ve given it up a dozen times.” In the same way I could say of a certain man, “Have I forgiven him for what he did that day? I’ve forgiven him more times than I can count.”

For we find that the work of forgiveness has to be done over and over again. We forgive, we mortify our resentment; a week later some chain of thought carries us back to the original offence and we discover the old resentment blazing away as if nothing had been done about it at all.

We need to forgive our brother seventy times seven not only for 490 offences but for one offence.

Thus the man I am thinking of has introduced a new and difficult temptation into a soul which had the devil’s plenty of them already. And what he has done to me, doubtless I have done to others; I, who am exceptionally blessed in having been allowed a way of life in which, having little power, I have had little opportunity of oppressing and embittering others. Let all of us who have never been school prefects, N.C.O.s, schoolmasters, matrons of hospitals, prison warders, or even magistrates, give hearty thanks for it.

Recipients of Forgiveness and Mercy

C.S. Lewis is speaking for me in this passage. And his admission that even we who possess “little power” have still too often abused that minor opportunity. What a profound insight, encouraging us to thank God for not affording us greater opportunity to misuse our authority!

In Paul’s letter to the Christians in Ephesus, the Lord puts the principle of forgiveness in terms all of us should be able to comprehend. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4).

It almost sounds as though my forgiveness of others shouldn’t be dependant on their remorse. Nor should its measure be determined by the vagaries of my own moods.

I suppose that my very awareness of my own struggle in forgiving others is a good thing. If I mistakenly thought I was capable of simply saying the words and it would be done, I would be dangerously mistaken. That is merely one small step in the process.

Far better that I recognize I’m just like C.S. Lewis in this aspect of my life. Like him, I’m better off recognizing I need to forgive others seventy times seven not only for 490 offences but for a single offence. In truth, that may simply be the beginning, since I’m called to forgive others just as God in our Lord Jesus forgives me.

27 thoughts on “The Miracle of Forgiveness

    1. Yes, there are several different buttons that would make life so much simpler.

      Glad you enjoyed the graphic. I make a good share of them myself, this one included, and I happily cite the people who create the other ones I use when I know the originators.

  1. I’m right with you, Rob. Forgiveness has been a process for me also. I especially appreciated Lewis’ comment about his own offenses against others: “What he has done to me, doubtless I have done to others.” Ouch! But of course he’s right. Humble self-reflection will surely expedite the forgiveness process until the sin against us no longer stings.

    1. A painful reminder, indeed. But, a truly helpful one for people like me whose first reaction to an intentional wrong is to get back at the perpetrator.

      My innate (fallen) desire for vengeance was reinforced by my (nonChristian) father, who expressly taught me to seek revenge. I thank God regularly for delivering me from that sort of tragic life.

      1. Praise God for his miraculous transformations, providing the abundant life of peace, joy, and contentment instead of anxiety, unhappiness, and strife!

    2. Dear Reverend Stroud and Nancy,

      I concur with both of you. Thank you, Reverend, for your insightful and introspective post that you have composed and shared with us here. I particularly like the following:

      It almost sounds as though my forgiveness of others shouldn’t be dependant on their remorse. Nor should its measure be determined by the vagaries of my own moods.

      By the way, I believe that you meant “dependent” rather than “dependant”.

      It can indeed be especially hard to forgive someone who has erred egregiously and repeatedly, and who has been beyond (any hope or chance of) repentance and reformation.

      Wishing both of you a lovely second half of July!

      Yours sincerely,

      1. Yes, forgiving the people you describe is harder… but, is anyone truly “beyond” repentance as long as they are alive? Still, the possibility of their redemption doesn’t make forgiving them any easier.

        You’re right about “dependent” being the preferred spelling in American English. Spellcheck doesn’t identify it since it’s also a word. Good catch.

      2. Dear Reverend Stroud,

        Some people, including but not limited to many psychopaths and sociopaths, are truly beyond redemption for they cannot change much at all even when receiving help and treatment of various sorts.

        As far as I know, “dependant” is a noun and not a verb. It means “a person who relies on another, especially a family member, for financial support.”

        Yours sincerely,

      3. I agree with you that we’re likely to encounter few sociopaths in heaven, but as Jesus said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

        Yes, in American English the “a” is normally used with the noun. (I’m well aware of its meaning in that context, growing up in a military family where I “was” one.) Regarding the spelling variants, check out this article at Merriam-Webster:

  2. This is great post, and it was good to read that someone else has trouble forgiving. You have a positive take on the struggle. I wish I could be that positive, but there are some people I am far from forgiving. And I know all the responses from others about it… every time I step toward forgiveness my heart turns cold… As you stated, we are forgiven, so we need to forgive… maybe someday.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed the post, Jamey.

      I suspect people like us, who struggle with forgiving, are in the unfortunate majority. And I will dare to say it–I’m quite confident of the fact that the problem is much more acute among men than among women.

      It’s a process. Sometimes we can only take one small step at a time and then we need to pause for a while as our heart once again thaws out.

    1. Sadly, Michael, it seems that’s true of many things in life. We know what we should be doing, but then we follow the easier path.

      Courage is certainly a key–especially when doing right involves challenging the “powers” of this world in which we live.

    1. Ah, a comment from another imperfect child of God seeking to follow our Lord more closely today than we did yesterday… and more faithfully tomorrow that we have today.

  3. As an incest survivor, I can attest that forgiveness is both the miracle and the ongoing process you describe. Even when we believe we have forgiven an abuser, there are moments in life when unforgiveness again rears its head. At such times, we must again fall to our knees at the cross.

    1. Thank you for sharing your personal experience, Anna. And thank you for courageously blogging about your story. No doubt many people have been helped and encouraged by your words.

      Yes, kneeling before the cross is the very place for us to find absolution and peace when we see how we have failed to forgive others as we should.

    2. I appreciate this comment. Our older daughter survived multiple raping and attempted murder by gangsters out on bail, more recently a very messy divorce from one who emotionally abused her for ten years… I’m sure she would concur with every word of yours, Anna. In fact we have seen it in her life and current aspirations.

      1. I’m certain Anna will join me in prayer for your daughter. How horrific. Thank God that in the death and resurrection of his only begotten Son that he offers hope and healing to the hopeless.

    1. Yes, it certainly makes our lives a lot happier and more peaceful.

      Would that you and I would have learned these wonderful truths even earlier!

      Thank you, Tammy, for the candid and healing story about your children on your website.

      1. God’s blessing to you too… and your ministry there in Sacramento. Two of our kids were born while I was a pastor there in Citrus Heights. (Of course, that was a ways back in the early 80s…)

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  6. Pingback: C.S. Lewis, the Psalms, and Penitence – NarrowPathMinistries

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