Giving Unwanted Forgiveness
Forgiveness is something so many people struggle with. For some, it’s over small things. For others, it’s over significant things that few people could truly say they would be able to forgive.
Recently, I read a book by a Holocaust survivor called Eddie whose message was that life can still be beautiful and enjoyed despite the bad things that happen to us. I was inspired by his resolve to make the most of his life after the trauma he had been through. But Eddie said he could never forgive those who put him and so many others through such pain and devastation. And so I finished his book; impressed by his survival but deflated at his resolve to not forgive.
It must be clear I did not judge him for it – that’s not for me to do.
But others would also say, “Who are you to say such a victim should forgive his offenders? Who’s to say forgiveness should always be given or even can be given? Can you forgive someone who doesn’t even want to be forgiven?”
Here is where – I think – the stark contrast between people with merely good intentions and good Christians can be seen.
People with merely good intentions want what’s best for people and then decide what that is.
Good Christians want what’s best for people and then let God decide what that is.
And because God tells us to “forgive not seven, but seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22), we must.
Funnily enough, the significance of this truth was highlighted to me not long after finishing the story of Eddie and I was required to forgive someone myself.
“Can you forgive someone who doesn’t even want to be forgiven?”
My initial thought was, “Why give someone something they don’t want?” They hadn’t even asked for it after all and I don’t think they truly even knew the hurt they’d caused me. But then, on the occasions I saw this person, I felt this unwanted and distracting hostility rise within me. I felt frustration at their presence and the fact there was something still unresolved. I knew it wasn’t right.
I could have quite easily blamed them for my discomfort and decided there was nothing I could do about it without an apology (which may well never happen). Or I could forgive them and completely eliminate the hostility within myself.
“Lord, I forgive them,” I prayed. “Help me to forgive them more.”
Almost immediately, I was able to take my focus off that person and concentrate on my task at hand in peace.
But I soon learnt exactly what Jesus meant about that “seventy times seven” bit… He wasn’t just talking about forgiving different events, He was also talking about forgiving the same person for same transgression several times, and especially when they haven’t said ‘sorry’.
Despite the peace I felt in forgiving the person, I had to forgive them in my heart the next time I saw them… and the next… and the next…
I decided not to see this as my failure in forgiveness but success in recognising what needed to be done and doing it.
And just like a coach who keeps on pushing the athlete, God had found plenty of opportunities since for me to exercise this challenge. We all know it’s easier to forgive when someone says they’re sorry.
But when they aren’t? That’s rare. That’s what Christ did.
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
Deep down, we all know how valuable this is because we know the relief felt when we are on the receiving end of this forgiveness. We know the ease that comes rushing back when we get the genuine smile from someone we have wronged.
So let’s be more than people with good intentions, let’s be good Christians that forgive – even when it isn’t wanted.
Elise is a second year Medical student from rural NSW who enjoys a variety of sports and being outdoors. She also loves food but when it comes to cooking – she claims to burn water.