I BEG YOUR PARDON: FORGIVENESS — A STEP TOWARD GOD
by Archpriest Elias Bitar
David Augsbereger said: “Since nothing we intend is ever faultless, and nothing we attempt ever without error, and nothing we achieve without some measure of finitude and fallibility we call humanness, we are saved by forgiveness.”
Since forgiveness is rooted in love, a brief look at Christian love may help us understand, in a fuller sense, the act of forgiveness. AGAPE, the Christian love, is limitless and unchangeable even when the object of that love is changing. When our Lord commanded us to love our neighbor, he made it very clear that the world around us is that neighbor. On the basis of distinction and likeness, a person stops being that neighbor. Though different from us, a person is still very close to us, because that person is a neighbor on the basis of equality with us in front of God, and that equality is unchangeable. “The Christian love is spontaneous and unmotivated. Love directed to sinners is intended to disclose its independence and sovereignty,” said Nygren.
God loves us because of who He is and not because of what we do or don’t do to deserve that love. God’s love is very much indifferent to value. Nothing in and by itself (apart from God) has a self-rooted worthiness or value, but actually, it is the love of God which gives the object of that love VALUE and WORTHINESS. That which is not worthy or valuable acquires its utmost value and work from being loved by God. AGAPE does not require value, it creates it.
Our neighbor needs not only our love, but our forgiveness also.
If we are to extend forgiveness, we must overcome the roadblocks of fear, pride, revenge, self-pity and social pressure.
FEAR that our forgiveness will put a stamp of approval on the other person’s actions. It gives the person who hurt us the license to hurt us again and again. Forgiving makes us vulnerable and we fear that. If you tell a lie about me and I forgive you, then the lie must be true, some may reason. This fear measured against the love and forgiveness of our Lord does not have a leg to stand on. Our forgiveness is based upon our pure love toward the other person whether they will hurt us again or not. Our forgiveness is an answer to Christ’s call to forgive and is not motivated by human reasoning. Forgiveness does not approve of the wrong, but erases it. Our forgiveness indicates our love for the person committing the wrong, and not the wrong action.
The fear of being rejected has its roots in pride.
When forgiveness is extended and not received, we feel rejection which injures our EGO. When our ego takes charge of our actions, we better watch out. Our Lord asked us to forgive when wronged and ask forgiveness when we fault our brother. When we extend forgiveness, we have done what God asked. We can be responsible only for our own actions. If the feeling of rejection paralyzes our forgiveness, then we should look to the life of Christ for inspiration and direction. “And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” our Lord teaches us in the Lord’s prayer. Not forgiving our fellow man is saying NO to God’s forgiveness.
Our feelings of revenge manifest themselves in our attitude of making the offender suffer the discomfort we suffered. We show feelings of indifference and total isolation. This feeling is a detour around the act of forgiveness. Avoiding someone is not forgiving them, but postponing the unavoidable Christian act of forgiveness.
At times, we drown ourselves in a sea of self-pity which prevents us from reaching out to receive the hand of our loving and forgiving Lord who can help us deal with our wounded selves. Self-pity is one of the most devastating roadblocks to forgiveness, because it magnifies the self, the hurt and prevents us from looking at the wrong doer with any kind of loving and caring perspective. Only in identifying with the other can we really understand and forgive. We, at one time or another, may engage in a similar wrong doing which requires forgiveness. One wrong act is not sufficient reason to devalue a person. Like ourselves, the other person is capable of weakness, confusion, fear, panic and frailty. Identifying with the other is a necessary step in penetrating the otherwise impenetrable wall of unforgiveness. In love we put the act in perspective and view it apart from the person. Forgiveness allows us to see only the love in others and ourselves.
Forgiveness is freeing ourselves from the past, transforming the present and securing a love-filled future.
The weight of the faultfinding pulls us deeper into the waters of self-pity. WHOSE FAULT IS IT? When we feel wronged, we immediately look to the other for blame. We perceive ourselves as victims. Something has been done to us. We are the “innocent”. We have a right, therefore we demand justice. An act of unkindness seems to put an end to years of beautiful memories filled with happiness and joy.
Forgiveness requires courage and humility. When we lack both, we withdraw and run away from the situation hoping that it will go away. Absence does not heal; the fantasy that time will heal has been proven wrong many times over. God does the healing in time if and when we allow him to touch our lives. It is the fault of the EVIL ONE who destroys the work of God, but each of us is responsible for his or her own actions. Forgiveness does not dwell on “Whose fault is it?” but on “How can we fix it?”
To the wrong doer, God says: “Stop, go reconcile and return.” There is no short cut. God alone does not handle it. Let me illustrate — I am driving away from the church parking lot and suddenly I back my car into the side of Mr. Nice Guy’s brand new Mercedes 450 SEL. He hears the BANG and sees the damage. I get out of my car, look at the damage and then bow in prayer, “Dear Lord, please forgive me for being preoccupied and clumsy. Please give Mr. Nice Guy the patience and the understanding when he goes to fix his car.” Then I drive away with a smile telling the nice guy that God will take care of things in His wisdom. What would you do if this were your car? Reconciliation has to take place between the offender and the offended. To the offended, God says: “Forgive not only seven, but seventy times seven.” Love never ends and neither does forgiveness.
When we do not engage in a forgiving attitude, we assume the weight of hate, pain and anger. Accusation and condemnation are never a path to forgiveness, but acceptance of one another in Christ.
An unforgiving heart is good soil for anger and sin. Anger gives birth to resentment, bitterness and hostility … We expect life to be fair. God is really in control and He allows these things to happen. In tribulations we are tested and this is a gift of God, (Phil. 1:29). Difficult times should produce spiritual maturity, as St. James said (1:2-4).
St. Paul said: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice,” (Eph. 4:31).
When the root of bitterness is watered with self-pity and fertilized by dwelling in injustices, it will grow out of proportion, stunning the growth of spiritual fruit and our capacity to love.
The Apostle Paul said: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose”.
There is another element which destroys the forgiving spirit which is peer pressure. “What would people say if I forgave without having demanded justice?” We act according to Tom, Dick and Harry. The issue is: What would my Lord do if I refuse to forgive? We live according to God and God alone.
I might forgive, but can I forget? What does it mean to forget? Our Lord blessed us with a mind which is capable of recalling things that happened many years ago. Can we recall the hurts? Yes, but we should not relive them. Why can’t we keep the painful memories stored in the past without pushing the recall button? Why the reliving and the rehashing? Do we like to go back to sit on the old gravestone where past grievances lie buried? True, the horrid of memory may fly again, but forgiveness has clipped its wings. The curse is gone. The memory is powerless to arouse any anger. The past is the past. Nothing can alter the facts. Forgiveness restores the present, heals the future and releases us from the past. With God it does not matter who is right and who is wrong. He knows and sees everything.
Whether we are the offender or the offended, the first step should be ours. Christians do not keep scores. Love hides a multitude of sins in forgiveness. Keeping scores of wrongdoing is like sitting in the judgment seat. Our judge is God and He alone. Are we all judges of one another? We all have to answer for our own actions when we face our Maker. No one has been appointed a judge over anyone, so why the score keeping? Forgive it and forget it; God will take care of it.
We know that we have forgiven when we can do the following:
Our Father, who art in heaven, help me forgive seventy times seven; and if I have wronged my brother, with Your love, bring us together. And when we are too weak to act on our own, Dear Lord, do not leave us alone.
From Word Magazine
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America