Then came Peter to him, and said, 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 (Matthew 18: 21-22)
Forgiveness is central to Christianity and perhaps that is the reason why so many of us really struggle in this area. We’ve all heard that we must forgive and it seems we go through the motions and fail every time. The perception of failure resides in the emotions that accompany the need to forgive. If we still feel hurt, betrayed, resentful, and all those other negative emotions, then obviously we haven’t forgiven the one who wronged us…right?
Wrong. Resoundingly so. Yes, we are instructed to forgive, but Jesus was the only man who was able to do so instantly and completely, because of his oneness in Spirit with the Father. If we continue to expect perfection in our human frailty, we shall continue to walk in a perception of failure and, ultimately, in the belief that, because we have not forgiven, we ourselves cannot be forgiven by our heavenly Father. That, dear ones, is a lie of the worst kind from the father of liars, who will use it to rob us daily of the peace and freedom that is ours.
This is why this verse is so important. I believe that Jesus taught us this so that we could avoid this trap, and it contains a wonderful and empowering truth. But first, let’s look at anger and what it really is. More often than not, anger manifests strongly because it becomes a kind of ‘survival mechanism’ we use to keep us going. We bury the emotions around the hurt or betrayal, but anger feels justified, and it’s an ‘active emotion’ rather than woundedness, which is a passive emotion and which we subconsciously interpret as weakness.
Anger is powerful, and it’s sustaining, and it validates us when we’re broken and bruised and battered inside. It’s our way of fighting back, and that’s why it’s one of the hardest of the response emotions to deal with.
In order to do so effectively, we need to separate anger – and all the other emotions that ride on its coat tails – from forgiveness. We need to understand, first and foremost, that forgiveness has no emotional manifestation. It is an act of choice, a conscious decision of the will, not a spiritual ‘wipe away’ of every negative emotion. Unless what you need to forgive is a small and relatively inconsequential offence, you can be sure that the emotions will hang on a lot longer.
First, make the choice and act on it. Lord, this is how I feel about it and why, but I choose to forgive. Acknowledge the emotion, but make a conscious decision of will to be obedient and to forgive. Now here is where the power of Christ’s words is so incredibly important.
Jesus is not saying that, if someone sins against us 490 times, we have to forgive 490 times. What he is saying is that he understands that we’re human, and that the emotions are going to rail and writhe and torment us. He’s saying that we may need to forgive the same offence 490 times. He’s saying that, every time the anger swamps us to the point of drowning we turn back to God, confess the emotion and make the choice to forgive.
This is the key. It’s exactly the same as resisting temptation – we don’t resist once and it’s ‘automagically’ removed. We have to resist over and over until the emotion, the desire, the weakness, is removed. The good news is that each time it becomes a little easier. Each time we take the emotion to the one who understands, the one who was betrayed by those he loved, the one who gave all and received death and brutality in exchange, we receive emotional healing in exchange for our honesty and our obedience.
The anguish called anger can be avoided when we see it for what it really is. And, while we’re walking through the long, hard struggle of letting go – which is what the act of forgiveness really is – let’s learn to forgive ourselves for our humanness. That doesn’t give us an excuse not to forgive. It simply helps us understand that there are some things we never ‘get over.’ We only get through them, one little step of forgiveness at a time. As we lay our emotions bare before God in our willingness to be obedient, we allow him to heal the brokenhearted and bind our wounds, and release us into the freedom of coming into a place of final and full forgiveness.
The real secret? We must truly want to be free, and honestly want to give it up. Only once we make the choice to ‘go the distance’ will we make space for God to do the necessary work in our hearts.
Father, help to be honest about how I’m feeling. Show me the things that are holding me back, and how to bring them to your healing grace. I choose to forgive, because I choose to be obedient, and I trust that you will keep your promise to bind my wounds and heal this broken heart, little by little, as I come to you in honesty, obedience and faith.