Have you ever felt that you could never, ever, forgive someone for what they did to you, or to a loved one? I have. Or that something you’ve done could never be forgiven, you’d messed up so badly that God couldn’t possibly have any further time for you, even that you’d lost your salvation? I’ve done that too, been there, got the T-shirt.
I’m immeasurably thankful that God didn’t leave me wallowing in misery. Through what might seem a random chain of happenings—visiting a bookshop, picking up a book by an author I don’t particularly like, reading a couple of pages I can’t even remember but where the words sprang out with spirit-fuelled power and spoke directly to my heart. I knew instantly that I was forgiven, that God loved me with an everlasting love, that all my sins—past, present and future—were covered by his blood and his grace, and that he had a purpose for my life. I’ve needed God’s forgiveness many times since, but that assurance has never left me.
God forgives and He restores; it is the very heart of the Gospel message, the cry of Jesus from the cross—“Father, forgive them…..’
As C.S.Lewis has said, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”
Not that it’s easy. We tend to hold on to grudges, to nurse and nurture them, and it’s not good. Resentment is like poison. Some years ago, I was struck by two situations that happened close together. One was the rape of Jill Saward, whose father was terribly beaten. He forgave the perpetrators from his hospital bed, and walked out of the hospital within a day or two. The other was local man, also terribly beaten and robbed in his own home. His wife never properly recovered and he was filled with bitterness. His broken bones refused to heal, and in a short time he had died of cancer.
As Nelson Mandela once said, “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”
We have to forgive even if we don’t feel it. To quote Corrie ten Boom, ‘Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.’
And we must forgive ourselves, too.