The Forgiveness Challenge
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Forgiveness is undoubtedly challenging, yet it’s a fundamental facet of Christian living. Jesus not only taught about this important virtue, He was also a living example of it. In Luke 9:51–56, Jesus is not welcome in a Samaritan village because He’s on His way to Jerusalem. The disciples are so enraged at the villagers’ reaction that they offer to call down fire from heaven to burn them up.
Jesus reminds them that He did not come to destroy lives, but to save them. He also shows mercy and forgiveness to those who otherwise would have been punished, such as the woman from John 8:3–11, who had been caught in the act of adultery. Not least among such examples is the famous prayer Jesus prayed for those who crucified Him: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
I must confess that the tendency to harbor resentment comes very easily for me. But when I’m tempted to hold a grudge over things that others have said or done that have offended me, I have learned to reflect on the times I’ve needed forgiveness from others for having offended them.
A story I heard as a boy told the tale of a farmer and his wife who sold their farm as they wanted to buy a new one. They are shown a run-down and neglected, yet good farm. Upon asking neighbors why no one lives there, they are told that it’s because of an ornery man named Grimes who plays dirty tricks on anyone who has tried to live on this property. One neighbor went as far as to call him “the devil incarnate.”
The farmer, to the surprise of his wife and neighbors, says with determination, “I think I’ll buy that farm. And if old Grimes tries to pull any of his shenanigans on me, I’ll kill that old devil.” When asked what on earth he meant by this remark, he simply says, “I have ways and means for handling a man like that.”
True to his word, the man and his wife buy the farm and move in. The trouble begins almost immediately. They wake up one morning to find their water supply cut off. They discover that this is due to their water pipe being dug up. Another day, when the farmer goes out to the barn to milk the cows, he finds them gone, and the fence to the field where they graze is cut.
The following days, the clothesline is cut and their dog gets poisoned. There is no question in the minds of the farmer and his wife as to the perpetrator of these deeds. But instead of giving in to anger, they study Jesus’ advice on love and forgiveness, and pray for the ability to put it into action. They decide to bake bread and leave it on Grimes’ porch, along with other food items. They also pray for an opportunity to meet the man and talk to him about the Lord.
One day, the farmer sees the infamous Grimes driving by on his way into town. His car gets stuck in some mud, and the farmer helps to free it. Grimes then expresses his frustration over the fact that every time he does something mean to the farmer and his wife, they do something good for him. “You’re killing me,” he says. “And I can’t stand it any longer.”
The farmer shakes Grimes’ hand and invites him to come to the house and meet his wife. She, overjoyed at the answer to their prayer, immediately invites Grimes to sit down and have something hot to drink. Grimes then tells them of having cursed God over the death of his wife and baby son, caused by a drunken driver. He asks if God could possibly care about “an ornery old cuss” like him. The farmer and his wife tell him of Jesus’ power to heal and forgive. Grimes apologizes for all the mean things he’s done to the farmer and his wife and accepts Jesus into his heart.
Another story is told of a special-duty nurse who was called upon to care for a man who was responsible for the wrongful imprisonment of her father years before. She was reluctant to take the case—but does so knowing that her father, who had been a minister, would want her to have a forgiving heart. In spite of the man’s grumpy disposition, the nurse exhibited a kind, patient attitude—and eventually had the opportunity to share her faith in God with him. In the end, so won over by her love and kindness, he financed a new addition to the hospital and named it after the nurse’s father.
Realizing that there are people in this world who have been hurt far deeper than I’ve ever been, yet who have learned to forgive and overcome their hurt, motivates me to pursue this virtue. As challenging as a virtue as forgiveness may be, once it’s obtained and exercised, there is nothing more liberating and transforming.—Steve Hearts
I once read a definition of forgiveness that said that forgiveness is to make it as if the wrong had never happened. That sounds like God’s definition of forgiveness. Picture a field of pure white snow, and smack-dab in the middle of that field, a pool of blood. Gruesome, I know. It’s also very noticeable. The red against the white is pretty hard to miss. Along comes a fresh snowfall, and all that blood is covered up, just as if it were never there. That is how God forgives; He makes it as if the wrong had never happened.
“Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool” (Isaiah 1:18). This is a passage from the first chapter of the book of Isaiah, where God is rebuking Israel for having turned away from Him, rebelled, and basically become like Sodom and Gomorrah.
But after 15 verses of telling them that they have turned away from Him, the message abruptly changes to one of redemption. He tells the people to make themselves clean, learn to do good, seek justice, and finally, that even though their sins are as scarlet, He will make them white as snow.
For us humans, forgiveness of that magnitude is hard to pull off. It’s just hard to take your hurt, your anger, the injustice you feel you have been dealt, and “make it like it never happened.” I won’t profess to fully understand forgiveness, but here are a few things the Bible teaches about it:
Forgiveness puts your heart right with God. You’ve probably heard the verse that says, “If you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (Matthew 6:14). This goes back to the basic fact that we are all sinners who need God’s forgiveness (Romans 3:23). To God, all sin is appalling. All sin separates us from God, and if we want to have a relationship with Him, we need His forgiveness; therefore, we need to forgive others.
Forgiveness heals you. It really is true that forgiving others is often the first step in allowing yourself to begin healing from whatever it is that hurt you. You may have heard that little proverb that says “holding on to resentment is like taking poison and expecting the other person to suffer.” Regardless of the other person’s fault, or how much justice you feel they deserve, resentment hurts you more than it hurts them.
It can be very hard to forgive, but it changes your life for the better. Alas, forgiveness can be hard to dish out. Sometimes, for me personally, putting the issue in the past is just too high a hurdle to jump on the first round. I have all kinds of feelings about the situation, the person, the future, the past.
It might take repeating some sort of affirmation to yourself each time you think about the event or the person. Something like, “I have chosen to forgive them. I am not defined by that person or event. I believe in God’s love for me and His plan for my life.” Or it might be something more active, like working on building a positive relationship with that person. With time and effort, you will see that you have moved past whatever situation or person you’re resentful about, and have indeed forgiven.
Here’s the beautiful thing about forgiveness; it can also change others’ lives for the better. One of my favorite stories is about Jean Valjean, from Victor Hugo’s novel, Les Misérables. Jean Valjean was a convicted thief who was paroled. The kindly bishop of Digne took him in and gave him a meal and a place to sleep. Even though the priest’s housekeeper suggested he do so, the bishop did not have the fine silver put away, and the temptation was too great for Jean. In the middle of the night, he stole the silver and made off with it. Of course, it didn’t take long before he was apprehended by suspicious soldiers and brought back to face the bishop.
This was a pivotal moment. One word from the bishop and Valjean would have been sent back to the galleys for life. But the bishop refused to accuse him. “The silver was a gift from me,” he said, “and, Jean, you forgot the candlesticks. Take this silver and use it to start a new life,” the priest told him. And Valjean did.
Forgiveness brings newness of life and liberation for you, and it has the power to transform the life of the recipient of your forgiveness.—Mara Hodler
Adapted from Just1Thing podcasts, a Christian character-building resource for young people. Published on Anchor February 2023. Read by Reuben Ruchevsky.