Catherine Anthony Boldeau asks, 'How can we forgive the unforgivable? One of the benefits of forgiveness,' she says, 'is that it releases you from the grip of the perpetrators...'
She's your sister. The one who shared your room, clothes and secrets! You recall the memories of crying together in one another's arms when she flunked her history assignment at the age of 13. You remember the laughter while combing the curly locks of one another's hair. And you are taken back to the time when she revealed her underground stash of lollipops bought with leftover pocket money. She never kept anything from you. You still joke about being 'soul mates'-but recently you know something is up. Whenever she is with you, the conversation is shallow. She is agitated in your presence, and when you ask her what's wrong, she says, 'Nothing much-I'm just a little tired,' as she scuttles away to answer another phone call. She has kept a secret from you: she shared your husband. You accidentally discover that the two people you loved most will soon be parents to your stepson and nephew. The ultimate betrayal?
He took the life of your brother. He was meant to be his friend, but he introduced your brother to his killers-the little white tablets that looked so innocent and yet are so deadly. He stood by the coffin of your brother-silent and alone. 'Why is he here?' you ask the stranger, who simply stares at you as the tears fall uncontrollably.
Your mother is dead, killed by your violent stepfather. As you gaze at the body of the one who gave you life, you are filled with intense anger. You are angry with her for constantly insisting, 'It's nothing, dear, really, nothing.' You could kick yourself for not persevering and making her 'see sense' and you hate him for taking away your best friend.
How do you forgive the unforgivable?
When asked, 'How many times should I forgive my brother?' Jesus' reply was seventy times seven. That's four hundred and ninety times. I'm not keeping score, but that's nearly 500 times. That's a lot. And when Christ spoke of forgiveness, was he only talking about those who were close to us and commit minor offences against or did he mean the liars and cheats, the 'bad influences' and the murderers as well?
It is relatively easy to forgive someone who accidentally hurts you, if the injury isn't long-term and does not cause you excessive harm. It's much, much harder to forgive people who have deliberately set out to hurt or injure you. The involuntary soul tattoo of upset and pain is a gaudy, all-consuming tapestry. The wound is so deep that it dominates your thoughts day and night and discolours your world-view.
2. How do you forgive the unforgivable?
Jenny was deeply hurt by her colleagues in the organisation she worked for. She was treated so badly that she left with work-related stress and hasn't worked since. Five years later, she wants to move on but is still shackled by the chains of her past working life and cannot break free from the thought that, should she return to work, it might happen all over again. So she sits at home, terrified to go out and even more scared to look for work.
3. How do you forgive the unforgivable?
Jenny's mother recently visited her and commented on hoe sad it was to see a young woman so weighed down with such emotional agony. She asked Jenny if she ever thought of forgiving those who had hurt her and suggested that this might help in the healing process. She reminded Jenny of the story of Jesus, who asked God to forgive those who were wrongly putting him to death. 'Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.' (Luke 23:34.) While he was dying, instead of calling on his Father to destroy his oppressors, he begged him to forgive them. What an act of magnanimity! What an act of love! Asking forgiveness for your enemies!
But as well as asking for forgiveness, he also added, '...for they know not what they do.' That's hard to accept. How can Christ say that? How can people who deliberately hurt you and me not know what they are doing?
When Christ made that statement I believe he was suggesting that those who deliberately cause us pain do not fully appreciate the outcome of their actions on their victims and do themselves. Even on the Cross he realised that people who intentionally cause pain to others are thinking of the short-term benefits to themselves and not the lasting legacies they leave on the lives of others.
One of the benefits of forgiveness is that is releases you from the grip of the perpetrators. It is liberating. Jenny had spent five years enslaved by those who had hurt her. Forgiving seventy times seven (nearly 500 times) is hard. It is one of the most difficult things to do. However, Christ's suggestion to Peter in Matthew 18 verse 21 is vital for everyone who wants to receive healing from the pain of hurt. Dwelling on pain for too long can be damaging. According to Romans 12:2 (KJV), we should be 'transformed by the renewing of [our] mind.' Eugene Peterson in The Message translates that as: 'Fix your attention on God, you'll be changed from the inside out.'
Jenny thought about her mother's observations. Was she right? Had she spent so much time thinking about the wrong things, so immersed in her anguish, that she had changed beyond recognition? That evening Jenny prayed and asked God to forgive her for not offering forgiveness to those who had hurt her. And for the first time in a long time, her mind was at ease and her spirit at peace. The soul tattoo that she thought was a permanent stain on her life was slowly erased.
Mark Twain said, "Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it." And Jenny finally discovered that, after allowing God to enable her to forgive repeatedly, she was able to release the fragrance of love that God planted in her heart.