“Captives cannot free themselves; they need someone to see them as captives who need releasing rather than as enemies to reject.”
“Father forgive them, for they know not what they are doing” (cf. Luke 23:24) was one of last sayings of Jesus on the cross to his Father. Did his captors not know what they were doing? They knew it. This was indeed a practical example that Jesus left for us his followers and yet forgiveness is one of the greatest challenges to our Christian life. How can we lighten the load of unforgiveness in our life? The purpose of this article is to lay bare some pragmatic steps one can take in order to forgive and this will be discussed under the theme “Lightening the Load” in the following areas: recognition, resolution, renunciation, covering and rebuilding.
To begin with, before one can begin the process of forgiveness, one must recognize one’s hurt and name it for what it is. Sometimes it is easy to deceive ourselves and pretend that we are not angry but these experiences are ephemeral. Some experiences like hostility, resentment and vindictiveness desire treatment before it can be treated, it needs to be brought to the master physician who specializes in freeing captives- both the potential forgiver and the one needing forgiveness. If the problem is not rectified, its adverse effects can probably not be brought under control. This is a universal reality. The following question can help in our quest to recognize our need to forgive.
• Exactly what are we talking about?
• What feelings have been churning deep within me?
• When are you most likely to feel angry about this?
• What inhibitions has it brought to your life?
• Are there certain types of people who naturally raise hostility in you and what does that mean?
Secondly, the ability to resolve to forgive after identifying the pain is also very important. This is where inner conditioning to be a forgiving person is important. Forgiveness is a process, sometimes the decision to forgive is taken but after that the anger or pain resurfaces. This is where our will to forgive must surpass our emotions. The yardstick of your choice to forgive is Christ who forgave us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). Often the pain that resurfaces seems as if the incident happened yesterday when actually, it did happened about three years or more. This is captivity; it is bondage. Friends, the resolve to forgive out of obedience to God is the unavoidable starting point. Perhaps that is what Jesus was accomplishing on the Cross in the midst of his suffering- resolving to forgive his betrayers, and captors, no matter what. Often the will of God for our lives seems unpleasant but obedience to it leads to victory for us just as Jesus was victorious.
Furthermore, forgiveness is an act of renouncing the desire to inflict similar pain on the offender. In fact, the instinct to return cruelty for cruelty dwells deep within us, because the inner most parts of our lives can be very dark and mysterious places where evil can be hatched. This renunciation comes or requires a spiritual work, determination and often an hour by hour choice. At other times we are motivated by the action of Christ on the cross “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:32). This is a stunning lesson. Is it not strange to see Jesus forgiving his captors? Thus Christ invites us to protect the interest of our offenders just as he did on the cross.
Forgiveness involves as well covering the sins of those we claim to be our enemies. The encounter between David and Saul when the latter decided to kill the former is a practical example. Even when Saul had been killed, David mourned for him in the following words:
O Israel, your pride and joy lies dead upon the hills; mighty nerves have fallen. Do not tell the Philistine lest, they rejoice. How much they were loved, how wonderful they were both Saul and Jonathan (2 Samuel 1:19-20, 22-23).
If it were you or me, we will perhaps expose the weaknesses of those we claim to be our enemies; but David rather covered it by praising Saul.
Finally, the fifth step in the process of shedding the needless weight of resentment and anger is rebuilding. This means that whenever possible the forgiver invests strong energies in not once covering the wrong but also forgiving himself in loving ways to help the offender rebuild his or her life. When there is deep remorse for wrongdoing, a person will live with the sorrow of it forever, a spiritual limp, if you please. Our job as people of the cross is to help lessen the limp. The story of Joseph in the book of Genesis (Genesis 45) is an epitome of rebuilding. In fact, in Joseph, all the five steps I have enumerated can be found namely recognition- where he saw what his brothers did to him as a blessing in disguise; resolution- resolving to forgive his brothers no matter what; renunciation- refusing to take vengeance when he got the opportunity to do it; covering when he never blamed them for what they did to him. Indeed, he rebuilds that life between them from Israel to Egypt to overcome the famine.
In conclusion, it is very difficult to forgive but the process I have discussed above: recognition, resolution, renunciation, covering and rebuilding can be a recipe to forgiveness. Remember always that when we encounter someone who has offended us greatly in one way or another, we need to see him as a spiritual captive not as an enemy. No matter how distasteful one’s actions may seem to be, you must visualize him as a captive and not your enemy. The enemy of God loves to take peoples wills, passions and actions captive. Do not be enslaved by hatred and unforgiveness because the power to forgive is in your hands. will you act now?