A group of my Bible Study Program participants asked me three questions about forgiveness (see items f to h below). It's always a pleasure to share my view for what it’s worth. But before answering their three questions, allow me to share first of all a few insights that crossed my mind when I reflected on this subject:
a. WHY SHOULD WE FORGIVE? - Unforgivable as we are, God has chosen to forgive us in the first place. How can we deserve God’s forgiveness if we ourselves don’t forgive? Jesus in the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
b. TO FORGIVE IS TO FORSAKE JUSTICE? - One huge deterrence that holds us back when we try to forgive is that we feel like forgiving a person who is clearly in the wrong is to undermine justice and truth. But how do we know the offender’s wrongdoing against us cannot somehow be justified? The person’s offence may well be justifiable but somehow we just fail to see the justification due to human frailties and limitations. For example, a serial killer who attempted to kill you might have serious mental issues that he had no control over. This is why God, who sees everything and is all just, must be the final and only Judge.
c. TO FORGIVE IS TO SUCCUMB TO EVIL? – It’s quite the contrary. A forgiving person is determined and courageous in that he’s decided to fight and break the chain of evil with love and humility. His is a very strong faith because he believes in the eventual triumph of good over evil. Contrast a forgiving person with somebody who doesn’t trust God’s overseeing power (i.e. God’s providence) and decides to “take things into his own hands” by resorting to revenge, hatred, and violence, and it’s easy to see why it takes faith to forgive.
d. HARD TO LIKE SOMEONE WHO OFFENDED YOU? - If liking him is hard to do, at least respect him due to the fact that the image of God is in him. If God would love him, so much so as to sacrifice His only Son for him, why wouldn’t you?
e. FORGIVENESS IS OUR ONLY RELIEF – When we do not forgive, we are the prisoners of anger, hatred, and even vengeance. Forgiveness is the only way to free ourselves from the grips of such negative emotions. Therefore, forgiveness sets free not only the offender but also the victim of the offence.
Now the Bible Study Program participants' three questions:
f. WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO HAVE FORGIVEN SOMEONE? – Pope Francis had this well-dissected: “It is one thing to sense a sudden surge of hostility when offended, but quite another to give in to it, letting it take root in our hearts: ‘Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger’ (Eph 4:26). My advice is never to let the day end without making peace in the family…Our first reaction when we are annoyed should be one of heartfelt blessing, asking God to bless, free and heal that person” (Amoris Laetitia, n.104).
g. HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOU HAVE FORGIVEN SOMEONE? – Following the Pope’s illustration above, it’s fair to say that feeling offended is a natural human instinct, but we must not allow the anger caused by the offence to take root in our hearts. If you have forgiven someone, you will hold no anger or resentment against him.
h. DOES THAT MEAN YOU NO LONGER HAVE HATE OR UPSET FEELINGS ABOUT THAT SITUATION? IS THERE ANY STEPS WHEN YOU FORGIVE? – As mentioned in the Holy Father’s exhortation above, you can resent the situation or the unjust action, but you must not allow anger or hatred to overpower you so that your initial resentment turns into anger or hatred towards the person. Based on the Holy Father’s teaching above, we can identify three distinctive steps that lead to forgiveness: (1) anger - a natural human instinct when we get offended; (2) determination not to sin because of the anger – use the power of love to put your anger to rest; forgive the offender; tell yourself points a, b, c, d, e above; have the humility to initiate reconciliation with the offender; and (3) bless, free, and heal the offender (in so doing, you also bless, free, and heal yourself).