“Father, forgive them. They know not what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
If you want to be like Christ and model your life after His, then you can begin by forgiving others the way He did and is still doing. Read again His words from the cross – what a liberating phrase. Forgive. He did not take with Him to heaven a wish for revenge against Judas Iscariot. Nor was there any hatred against Pontius Pilate, the governor who really did not want Him to be crucified, but he thought it expedient to satisfy the demands of the crowd. Not was there hostility against the soldiers who used him as a substitute for their pent-up rage against the emperor and all in authority, dressing him in a parody of royal garb, then abusing, mocking, taunting and beating Him as though He were not a human being but rather a puppet tossed to them for their amusement. He forgave the two that thrashed Him nearly to death with their whips of leather laced with metal and bone shards. Even those who with no qualms pounded spikes into His wrists and feet. What does it take to have such a spiritual disposition? Yet the lives of the martyr saints bear witness to the blessed ones who did likewise.
We say we are like Him and them as we pray several times each day: “Forgive us our trespasses [or debts] as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Nevertheless, do we mean it? Even more important, do we live by forgiving all others?
The Lord Jesus came to mind as I followed a sedan driven by a woman. On her bumper sticker: My ex is in the trunk. Stopping and starting along the street, I reread that pitiful proclamation of anger, and I thought: Madam, your “ex” is not in the trunk, but you are imprisoned in the trunk of your mind, and you will not allow yourself to escape. How long is your sentence? There is no judge or jury evaluating your mental condition. Nobody is there to plead your case – no lawyer or psychiatrist appointed by the court to recommend your release from the cell of your mind. You hate the one who hurt you, and you think that as long as that anger goes unabated, he is suffering for all the wrongs he has inflicted upon you. Of course, it does not make sense. Hating and holding grudges are symptoms of irrational behavior, but who will take it upon himself to explain that to the one locked up in misery? What friend or family member is willing to assume responsibility for the reaction that likely will follow?
Forgiveness is the antidote for negative thinking. Forgiveness means to let go. Let go of resentment, thoughts of payback, and the hurt that remains and will always be part of your life. Forgiveness releases the grip anger has on your heart. It opens the focus on those parts of life that lead to understanding, empathy, and compassion for the person who hurt you. It doesn’t deny responsibility, or minimize or justify wrong – not excusing, but rather offering inner peace, presence of the Lord, spiritual and psychological well-being. It alleviates stress, hostility and blood pressure. Holding a grudge means that you were hurt by somebody you love, producing anger, sadness and confusion. By forgiveness you can bridge the barrier of anger that invades each relationship. Forgiveness brings the decision and commitment to change, recognizes the value of the forgiven, not how your reaction affected your life. Let go of grudges and you will not define life by who hurt you. Forgiveness is beginning the process of healing. Forgiveness is a conscious choice, a decision of the will, which meant that it is in your control. You decide to forgive.