Several years ago, I learned probably one of the greatest lessons of my Christian life up to this point. I learned to forgive. Now that may sound silly, since Christianity is based upon forgiveness. Jesus' death on the cross was for the forgiveness of sins. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace (Eph. 1:7). I can only be a Christian, because I am forgiven.
We hear the story about when Peter asked Jesus how many times he was to forgive his brother. Peter picks what he thinks is probably a big number... seven times. Then Jesus says we are to forgive seventy times seven times! (Matt. 18:22). We think in our ultra-spiritual Christian minds, "Wow, Peter was such a carnal Christian. He only wanted to forgive seven times. I mean, I would forgive 490 times no problem, because that's just what Jesus wants us to do." We sort of feel better than Peter, because we never asked such a silly question of the Lord.
But how many times do we really forgive? How many times have we been hurt and we haven't forgiven? It wasn't my fault, so why should I be the first to forgive? How many times have we been treated so badly emotionally or physically by someone, and had to forgive them?
I think a lot of Christians don't really and truly understand forgiveness, because we have never been faced with a situation where we didn't want to forgive. I learned to forgive when I had to forgive even though I didn't want to. It was hard. Every part of my flesh rebelled against forgiving. I had been hurt. It wasn't my fault. Why should I have to forgive. I wanted to be bitter, angry, even vengeful. I wanted to hold what that person did against them. I felt that they should have to pay for what they did. The only problem, is that none of those responses or feelings are very Christian. I learned that forgiveness requires compassion. I think it's easy to SAY we would forgive someone, but it's harder to actually do it. It takes compassion, mercy, and grace to forgive. If I don't have compassion for someone, I will find it very hard to forgive them. Maybe that's why Peter only wanted to forgive seven times. He knew how hard it was!
Honestly, I didn't have a whole lot of compassion for the person that I needed to forgive. That was one of the things I learned through the process of forgiving. I need more compassion. I never forgave that person because I felt compassion or mercy towards them. If I had waited for those feelings to come, I probably still wouldn't have forgiven them to this day! I forgave them because I knew it was what God wanted me to do. That was the bottom line. I knew I couldn't disobey God, and I knew that if I didn't forgive, I would be living in rebellion towards God and His Word.
I've seen Christians who don't forgive. It's sad. I know we can't fully know a persons heart or motives, but the truth is, attitudes display themselves in actions. An unforgiving person may show attitudes of bitterness, negativity, and pride. They don't treat others with compassion. Instead, they condemn them. Forgiveness is so simple, yet it's so hard. I am thankful for the situations that God allowed in my life to teach me to forgive. I'm even more glad that I made the right choice and forgave, even though I didn't want to. In the end it was worth it. When I came to the point that I forgave, I felt a huge weight lifted from my shoulders. I felt peace. I wasn't bitter, angry, or hurt at all. I could go on with my normal life and know that I was doing what was right. It was a really good feeling!