But What About the Pain?
To forgive is a quality which many believers cherish but in practice can be very hard. The Bible teaches and speaks of forgiveness like in the Matthew verse below, but you can’t help noticing that Jesus replies to Peter about forgiving his brother.
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times? Jesus answered, I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. (Matthew 18:21)
Now because family are yours no matter what, you do tend to forgive them endlessly. Blood is thicker than water they say, and a family relationship (including pets) is the only human relationship based on unconditional love. We know that marriage is not based on unconditional and endlessly forgiving love.
Ever since the time of Jesus, this quote from Matthew is interpreted to mean it applies to all wrong actions irrespective of the severity of the wrong-doing or intent of the perpetrator. This means if a total stranger assaults you in a street and makes off with your wallet, they are forgiven. But this is easier to forgive because the only emotional attachment you have is to the deed rather than the perpetrator.
It gets more complicated if the perpetrator is someone you know and worse the more intimate the relationship to that person. You are then emotionally tangled with the deed and the perpetrator.
It’s the difference between:
“ You did this to me ! ”
“ How could you do this to me !? ”
If a person is in a severely dysfunctional relationship and there is abuse over an extended period of time, then is the abuser to be forgiven even if that forgiveness means nothing to them other than you must be okay with the abuse and they keep on abusing, what then? Do you keep turning the other cheek?
It is a fair question to ask that if a person deliberately harms someone and has no remorse or won’t even help themselves stop, are we still meant to forgive that person? So in severe cases like this are we forgiving the person or are we forgiving the deed?
My opinion is that what Jesus may have meant in a broader sense is that first we forgive the deed and then the person. It would feel reasonable to forgive that person if they did not intend to harm you. That’s easy. But if the person’s hurt was intentional, or could have been avoided, then it’s not as easy to do. It won’t be so straight-forward to detach them from the deed.
In the Matthew verse, when you look again at Jesus’ words you realize he is hinting to Peter that it won’t be a matter of forgiving his brother once, but many more times to actually forgive and heal.
We can’t be sure of another person’s regret or how much they care and we can’t force them to be guilty. All we can do is detach from the lingering bitterness that hangs around stubbornly while trying to take the higher moral ground and be the one to forgive.
It also gets tricky if the perpetrator, who you are in a relationship with, also feels they have been hurt – by you. The act of forgiving is lost in a debate of who hurt who first and who got hurt more. If no one budges, divorce ensues.
So does forgiveness in religion take into account any sense of severity? It’s obvious I will automatically forgive the person who carelessly bumped into me and made me spill my coffee. But at the other extreme lies acts against another which are so damaging it is a big ask to forgive. In cases like this to forgive seems to excuse the perpetrator, especially if it’s obvious they don’t have the conscience of a normal person. Forgiving them would seem like a wasted prayer. So what does one do?
I believe it’s this lack of distinction which causes many people to forgo religion’s position on forgiveness because it seems to advertise that you can get away with terrible things because a good Christian (and other faiths which hold forgiveness as a virtue) will always forgive.
Forgiveness is made all the harder because Christianity and Judaism do not recognize reincarnation so there is no concept of karma which is the debt an individual pays at the level of their soul. If it seems like people are getting away with blue murder and they die in their warm beds never having been convicted and punished by the law, then their soul will pay in the next life. The debt is like for like. For example, a child abuser in this life may return in the next life as a child abuse victim.
The lack of awareness of the cycles of karma explains why society as a whole seems to increase karmic debt rather than decrease it and history repeats itself as generations of families and other relationships repeat negative patterns. People are not aware of the cause and effect trap they have unleashed on themselves. So lives can be spent repeating themselves and these poor souls are stuck in spiritual ruts.
So what is the practical and realistic way to forgive and release the attachment to the pain?
How to Forgive
What is humanly possible….what you can do now:
1. Forgive yourself that you can’t forgive just yet.
2. Know that true forgiveness is not a mental exercise but is best when it comes from the heart, so it will take time.
3. Can you understand the pain of the other person that drove them to hurt you? Most people hurt others out of hurting from their own pain or torment. Try to put yourself in their shoes.
4. If your pain is too great do not identify with it but think of it as a healing wound. Compartmentalise the pain and recall point 2.
5. Pray to God that you will find forgiveness and release from any heart ache.
Say to yourself the following quote from Luke.
Even if you think you are not ready to live up to what the Luke verse says, you will be surprised how much better you feel just from reading it.
In Luke 6:36-37 Jesus Christ says:
Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Do not judge, and you will not be judged.
Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.
Forgive and you will be forgiven.