Today I was talking about the issue of forgiveness, and talking to friends who don't believe as I do, I suddenly realised that while its easy to say 'I forgive', that its much more complicated and difficult than that.
Its easy I think to say that if someone viciously attacked, hurt, abused or raped one of the people we love the most in the world - partners, children, family, close friends - that we would forgive them and not hold a grudge.
Its a totally different thing altogether to actually have to face that choice, that situation.
I think when something like that happens its perfectly understandable to be angry and upset, and to feel pain. In some ways its a God-led impulse, because God gets angry when innocent people are hurt by others in such a way. How could He not?
The difference with Him? He doesn't let the anger govern His actions. He chooses love, grace and mercy.
God doesn't like sin. Of any kind. He gets just as upset with us if we lie as He does with rapists and serial killers.
Yet, as Jesus shows us, He chooses forgiveness, because His love is more powerful than rage and hatred.
Imagine if someone was tortured to the very brink of their life, humiliated, embarrassed, mocked, treated lower than the lowest criminal and then exectuted in the very worst and painful methods of execution ever devised.
Imagine that person had committed no crime. Nothing. Zilch.
Imagine if that was the person you love the most.
Imagine that person was you.
How would you feel? Angry? Upset? Full of bitterness and rage? Wanting your captors to be punished for what they had done to you or the one you love?
Would you say 'I forgive you', or would you ask God to forgive them?
Personally, I don't think many people, when actually faced with those circumstances or experiences, would have 'Forgive them' as their first instinct.
I don't think I would.
There is one person, a real person who lived 2000 years ago, however, who did. Someone different. Someone innocent of any crime and any sin. The person who deserved this the least of all people in history.
The issue for me is not just forgiveness, but dealing with the pain we feel. When things like that happen to someone we love dearly, we are going to feel pain. Most likely we will feel some kind of anger.
So what do we do with that?
Do we let it control us? Do we give in to it? Do we let the pain, bitterness and resentment rule our lives? Do we hate the people who did this?
Or do we instead recognise the anger, bitterness and resentment we feel, and instead of letting it control us, choosing something different.
Accepting that although we feel this way, that we want to choose a different way of living. We want to see God's perspective.
The pain we feel may never truly go away, but the choice we must make is to say that instead of blaming that person and casting all our pain into anger at them, we choose to surrender that anger to God. To use the emotion we feel to drive us upward, not downward into rage.
To work with God, over time, to come to a place where we can truly say with our heart that we forgive the people who hurt us.
It is a process. Sometimes it doesn't take long, sometimes it takes years.
Its not something we can often do very quickly, because we're not perfect. But our goal, our aspiration, our target, is to surrender the pain we feel and say that we will see the person as God does.
Someone who has made mistakes yet. Someone who perhaps deserves prison and justice, because of what they've done. Someone who deserves punishment.
But instead of dwelling on that we simply say, "I forgive you".
There is a story told by a pastor, a totally true story, of a woman who was having visions of Jesus. The local priest got her in to talk to her, and she was adamant about her visions. So he asked her, the next time she saw a vision of Jesus, to ask Him what he had confessed the last time he went to confession.
So a few weeks later he saw her again and he asked her what had happened.
She said "I asked Jesus the sins you confessed the last time you went to confession, and His exact words were
"I don't remember"
That's the challenge for us, and it's not easy at all. True forgiveness is never easy. To begin with, its a choice, to ignore all our emotions are telling us and to choose something better. It can take a shorter or longer time depending on the situation, but it is a process.
As time goes on, and we keep choosing forgiveness, the posture of our heart will change and we may one day be able to truly say
"I don't remember"
And the more we choose forgiveness, I would like to think the more natural it will become.
Forgiveness can become more of a state of mind.
So the process starts to not take as long as before, as we start to see people more as God sees them instead of how people expect us to, or by the standards of the culture we live in.
But it all begins with a choice. To hold resentment, anger and bitterness in our hearts and play the blame game, and to hate, or instead to acknowledge and recognise these emotions, and choose to surrender them to God.
Its not easy. But its possible.