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Tatiana Bugaiets 

 An essay 

"A Few Words About Forgiveness"

      

      Recently I've heard a Сhristian sharing his thoughts about forgiving others. Among his words were these: "Do we really have to forgive everyone? Must we do it always, in all circumstances? Many people think we must. But let's refer to the primary source of Сhristianity, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What Jesus tells us about forgiveness? Нe tells: "So watch yourselves. If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, "I repent", forgive him" (Luke 17:3,4). Seven times is much. But in another verse the Lord says: "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times" (Matthew 18:22) - that it, beyond measure.  But I think the speech here is not about unconditional forgiveness. The Lord orders us to forgive a brother if he repents, if "seven times he comes back and says, "I repent.." 

     The words of this Christian touched my heart, because there was a time, when such thoughts were disturbing me as well. And in my spirit I was asking the Lord many questions. 

     The Holy Scriptures tell us about forgiveness in several verses. Here is one of them: "And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins." (Mark 11:25,26). Matthew 6:15 reads plainly: "..if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive you your sins."


     "And when you stand praying.."

     In the real fact, the spirit of a born-again child of God is always praying. Spiritual exchange between God and his child never stops, even though we don't kneel down. If you are born again from the Holy Spirit, you totally depend on your Father. It's like with air breathing. We do it easily and naturally, not even noticing the air's presence. Do we take efforts to breath? Yes, we do, but only in case of obstruction in bronchi or lungs. The same is with our "spiritual lungs". We communicate with God freely unless something foreign - a kind of thrombus, gets into this flow. Unforgivingness is also a spiritual "thrombus", if we can say so. It hampers our communion with God and other people. 

     Surely, it's a natural desire to see our offender come and repent (or at least, express his regret). But your expectations may turn vain. And while waiting for it to happen, you'll feel a burden in your soul. Isn't it better to free yourself from the chains, according to the word of Christ: "forgive and you will be forgiven"? You may say: "easily said than done." And the task gets even more complicated, when you discover an interesting detail in Matthew 18:35: "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart."

Here it's written that we must forgive our sisters and brothers in Christ from "our HEART", not only from our mind or from our lips. That is, forgiveness has to be real, not formal. Not easy, right?   
"But what if I can't forgive?" - you may ask. There are offenses which leave a deep soul wound and it seems nothing can heal them.   
     But the Lord also knows it. Nevertheless, He tells us to forgive people "from our heart" - that is, sincerely, not reminding our debtors of their debts. It means He knows that we have enough strength to do so, if we are really His children. Here I don't speak about the people of the world, who don't have a spiritual power to forgive. Usually they demand "an eye for and an eye" and "a tooth for a tooth", but if we really belong to Christ, we are no longer guided by our old nature. We don't revenge on people. Neither do we blame anyone. We try to settle all questions with our Lord through His Word.  

     By giving these commands Jesus doesn't press on us. But if we want to follow Him, here is a condition: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Matthew 16:24). "To deny oneself" means to deny our carnal nature with its lustful desires, and to yield to the Word of God and His Spirit. "For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it" (Matthew 16:25). If fact, it's a very painful choice. However, there is no other way to become a new creation in Christ and to enter the Kingdom of God. It's no wonder that many who had been following Christ when He demonstrated signs and miracles, turned away from Him when He told about the price of following Him. But if we don't die for our "ego", we shall not be clothed in Christ. Ignoring His condition, nobody can have enough strength to forgive offenders, to restrain from revenge, to pay good for evil.. I don't even mention about loving enemies. 

     To forgive doesn't always mean to say nothing in return or to let it go the way it goes. Sometimes such an attitude encourages people to misuse our readiness to forgive. God tells us to be patient. But He doesn't tell us to be "punching bags", who fearfully tolerate offenses, storing them inside. Sometimes this kind of patience aims to win peoples' favour or to avoid their anger. Unwillingness to see the truth and accept it makes us slaves to others. "..you were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men" - says the Lord (1Cor. 7:23). To forgive means to tell the truth in love. It means to stop paying evil for evil, curse for curse, thus handing people over into God's hands. Otherwise the invisible threads of offense will connect us to offenders, and soon we shall feel a leakage in our spiritual vessel, which slowly but confidently will make us powerless.     

     Not so long ago I tied up cucumbers in our green-house. In a week the stems threw out runners. I was surprised to see that the runners started to catch the neighbouring stems and bend them aside. Connected by these "threads", the cucumbers intertwined and started to choke each other. I had to take scissors in order to cut off the runners, and to fix each stem on the vertical rope, so they could stretch upwards again.

Doesn't it depict the situation when we nurse offences in our hearts? Seeing this, the Gardener of our souls sometimes makes an invisible operation on our hearts, with the purpose to direct our eyes upwards, to Him. 

     Mark 11:25,26 orders Christians to forgive not only our brothers or sisters in Christ, but anyone: "if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him.." Here nothing goes about repentance on their part. It tells only about our part. Also in a prayer: "Our Heavenly Father" we ask God to forgive us to the measure we forgive others ("forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors"). God is merciful to us. It means we also have to be merciful to imperfections of other people. If we are Christians, we have the light that overcomes any darkness. And it brings us freedom. 

     If our offender stays tough-hearted and rejects rebukes of conscience, in spite of the fact we forgive his debts, then he'll be tortured in the prison of his soul, because "there will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil" (Rom.2:9).

There are people who never ask forgiveness and will never do. In their bitterness and hardness of heart they are always "on the right side", but only in their own eyes. Alas.. how can we change it? We can break relations with such people if all other methods have been used (although it's not always possible). Sometimes God allows us to go through "deep waters", polishing us by the people who bring us discomfort. It's a good chance to produce the fruit of the Holy Spirit, which is called angelic patience.  

     I know women who've been living with tough-hearted husbands for years and never heard two simple words from them: "forgive me". And these wives have not become bitter in their hearts.  
Sometimes I hear from Christians: "If I see no repentance on his (or her) part and no desire to change, if he or she is doing the same thing over and over again, why am I trying to forgive over and over again? Is there a sense? It's all in vain!" Here I'd like to remind you of Jesus' words. He tells that when we are persistent in showing love to such people, "we will heap burning coals on their head" (Rom.12:20). It means that if we restrain from revenge, the Lord will be able to influence the heart of such a person and even bring him to repentance. 

     The ability to forgive others is not an easy one. It is not a gift of the Holy Spirit, which we receive from Him in a wink of an eye and give it away right and left. It's a quality, which becomes a part of our character only after numerous victories over our carnal nature.

The ability to forgive is also not a fruit of the Holy Spirit. The fruit of the Holy Spirit is love and mercy, which help us to forgive others sincerely. We receive it from God as a seed, but we must let it grow in our hearts with God's help. Merciful attitude to others comes as a result of our deep awareness of God's mercy to us, shown in His Son. This is what motivates us to give mercy to others.

     Why is it so difficult to forgive? Because our "ego" wants to sit on the thrown. It doesn't want to die. This is the root of the problem. 

     It seems to us that God's categorical commandment to forgive others sounds severe, and even cruel. On the one hand it does. But there is something which doesn't give us a chance for excuse. Christ has paid an immense price on the Cross for our salvation (which also includes forgiveness of our sins). If it were not so, we'd have a chance for self-justification. But now we don't have it. We have been forgiven, so we must forgive others. 

As for me personally, I strongly believe (relying on the Word of God) that we must forgive others in any case, no matter if they ask forgiveness or not, and no matter if they repent or not. Otherwise our "spiritual wings" will be cut short. Not a good perspective, is it? 

So, let God bless us with a forgiving heart, and let Him give grace to our offenders to realize their inner problems and overcome them with His help.