Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
Clara Barton was the American heroine who founded the Red Cross many years ago. Once a friend reminded her of a vicious deed someone had done to her years before. Clara Barton acted as if she had never even heard of the painful incident. Her friend asked, “Don’t you remember it?” Clara Barton replied, “No, I distinctly remember choosing to forget it.”
Continuing from Part 1, we’re talking about this idea that to err is human; forgiveness is divine. Forgiveness is a fascinating topic—it’s the active process in which you make a conscious choice not to remember. That’s the way God forgives us.
In Isaiah 43:25 (NIV) God says, “I am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sin no more.” It never says God forgets our sin, because God can’t forget anything. God is a lot older than any of us can fathom, but he doesn’t suffer senility or dementia. When he forgives us, he simply chooses not to remember our sins anymore. How much more should we work at forgiving our friends. It really is worth it.
When the first missionaries to the Eskimos were learning to translate their language, they discovered the Eskimo word for ‘forgive’ was a multi-word phrase: issumagijoujungnainermik (a word I can’t pronounce). It literally means ‘not-being-able-to-think-about-it-anymore’. That’s what forgiveness is—it’s not forgetting. It’s choosing not to let the thoughts of that harmful person or their harmful deed consume your thinking.
Forgiveness Is Costly
It always costs something to forgive. If someone borrowed $1,000 from you and you realise you’ll never see them again, it costs you at least $1,000 to forgive them. When you forgive someone, it costs you, too. But the cost is much less than the price of revenge. You’ve probably seen the bumper sticker that says: I don’t get mad; i get even. It is our nature to seek revenge. You could say, To err is human; and to seek revenge is too.
In the Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare has Shylock ask several human questions:
- If you prick us do we not bleed?
- If you tickle us do we not laugh?
- If you poison us do we not die?
- If you wrong us shall we not seek revenge?
Sadly, there are people who are so full of hatred and animosity they will use every opportunity to hurt others. Even in death, some people try to extract revenge. Here are two actual bequests from the wills of two people who wanted to get even:
- One woman stipulated in her will that $1.00 from my estate be invested and the interest given to my husband as evidence of my estimate of his worth. Ouch! That’s low.
- Another woman left this directive in her will: To my estranged husband I leave just enough money to enable him to buy a rope to hang himself. Not a very nice attitude at all.
Forgiving someone who hurt you is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do.
Forgiving someone who hurt you is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. It’s not easy—that’s for sure. It goes against everything we feel.
In fact, it’s impossible without God’s power. I’ve heard people say, But I just can’t forgive him/her for what they did to me. My reply is often, You’re right, you can’t, but God can forgive them through you. It’s really you saying, I do not want to harm you for this incident. This is your willingness to release them from your desire to take revenge on them.
People often misunderstand this point. If someone committed a crime against you, forgiveness doesn’t prevent you from allowing the law to execute justice. But forgiveness requires you do not personally become the judge, jury, and executioner for what they’ve done. I think that’s important to remember.
Do Not Continually Bring Up the Past
It also means: I will not bring up this incident again. How often marriages have disintegrated because the husband or the wife just continually brings up the past. When God forgives our sin, he buries them in the depths of the sea and he never goes fishing for them. When you forgive someone, don’t keep resurrecting the incident.
The Bible says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath.” (Romans 12:18-19). So the Bible doesn’t say you can live at peace with all people—that’s why it says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Sadly, there are some people who reject your willingness to live at peace with them. So, go ahead and forgive them, and move on.
Corrie Ten Boom was imprisoned by the Nazis during World War II because her family provided a hiding place for Jews when they were being arrested. She and her sister Betsy were sent to Ravensbrück where horrible torture, rape, and death occurred on a regular basis. Betsy died in the prison camp, but Corrie miraculously survived.
She became an effective Christian author and speaker. In 1947 she was invited to speak in Munich, Germany. That evening, she spoke on the topic of forgiveness—how God buries our sins in the depths of the sea. After her talk she was approached by a man who looked familiar to her. With horror she recognised him as one of the cruellest guards at the concentration camp. She remembered the shame of walking naked in front of this very man. Suddenly all the fear and hatred returned in a flash.
“Will you forgive me?”
He said to her, “In your talk you mentioned Ravensbrück. I was a guard there. But since that time, I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from you as well, Fraulein.” He held out his hand to Corrie and said, “Will you forgive me?”
Corrie wrote about that encounter:
It could not have been many seconds that he stood there, hand held out, but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do. I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. ‘Jesus, help me!’ I prayed, silently. ‘I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.’ And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me.
And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes. ‘I forgive you, brother!’ I cried. ‘With all my heart!’ For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then. (Corrie Ten Boom, Tramp for the Lord, pp. 55-57)