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Every time we pray the Our Father, we say "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespasses against us." And just in case we miss this clear command, Jesus repeats the admonition, "If you do not forgive you brother from you heart neither will you Father in heaven forgive you.
If we don't forgive we are like the unforgiving debtor, who having been forgiven all his massive debt, refused to forgive someone who owed him a far smaller amount. The unforgiving debtor was handed over to the tormentors until he paid every penny.
Unfortunately, our sympathy for the victim can make us reticent to challenge them to forgive. We forget forgiveness is the path to healing. Those who do not forgive the people who have injured them remain in bondage to their wounds. They are captive to their pain, when forgiveness could free them.
Many people are afraid to forgive. Some think forgiveness excuses the injury, and means it was no big deal. It is just the opposite. We forgive precisely because we have been injured and we matter. It is a big deal. The more serious the injury, the deeper the wound, the more we need to forgive. The first step in the process of forgiveness is to acknowledge the full extent of the harm suffered.
Some say I can't forget. Of course you can't. Your brain doesn't work that way. Our memories of injury are stored in our brains and serve as warnings to avoid future harm. Jesus doesn't expect you to forget, but forgiveness can be the first step in a healing of the memories.
Some worry that, if they forgive, their oppressor will just do it again. Jesus doesn't expect us to trust the untrustworthy. We are never obliged to allow ourselves to be victimized when there is a way to escape without dishonor. Forgiveness often allows us to find that path and can give us the courage to stand up against the oppressor. Love means wanting what is best for the other. It is never best for a person to injure others. Therefore resisting oppression is an act of love for the oppressor.
Some think forgiving lets those who hurt us get away with it. They forget that God is just. Everyone must at the end face the just judge of all the world. Those who have repented will receive mercy, those who haven't will be judged.
There are only four possible scenarios.
1. We forgive and the person who injured us repents. The angels in heaven rejoice.
2. We forgive and the person who injured us doesn't repent. We are free and our oppressor still has to account to God for all their other sins.
3. We don't forgive and the person who injured us doesn't repent. We remain captive to our pain and the one who injured us still has to account to God.
4. We don't forgive, but the person who injured us repents and is reconciled with God. He is free and we are turned over to the tormentors.
From this you can see that refusing to forgive is a very bad choice.
Unfortunately, we are captives of a culture that encourages victims to hoard the wounds, cultivate grievances, and never forgive. While this lets victim-advocates feel virtuous, it traps the wounded in the bondage of resentment and prevents healing.
Certain constituencies have a vested interest in keeping the wounded unhealed. Activists drag victims before legislators and reporters to bolster their demands. Lawyers looking for big settlements and prosecutors of criminals want to present permanently damaged victims to juries. The jailers guarding the prison of victimhood need to showcase raw and still bleeding wounds. Those who have forgiven and found healing don't count.
This is tragic. If we really love those who have been harmed, we recognize the harm done and work to prevent future harm, while at the same time leading victims to healing through forgiveness.
Dale O'Leary is a freelance writer and author of "The Gender Agenda: Redefining Equality" and "One Man, One Woman."