Forgiveness is crucial in Christian life, for various reasons. It is important that we forgive in order to receive answers to our prayers. Through forgiveness, healing from diseases and inner wounds is obtained. Forgiveness destroys the dominion of the devil over us. Only through the eyes of forgiveness can we see and experience God. Forgiveness is a process which takes time. It is a process that requires the help of God. Forgiveness opens the doors to receive innumerable graces for us and others.
Message of forgiveness from the cross
Jesus is an example of givenness. He prayed for his enemies as given in St. Luke “Father forgive them, they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34a). Jesus, dying on the Cross, cried out to His father in His human pain and anguish, yet in deep love for His persecutors, asking His father to forgive those who mocked, humiliated, scourged and crucified Him. Throughout Jesus’ time on earth, He instructed, guided, and even admonished the people through His teachings and ministry. However, one of the most piercing messages He ever gave, was His parting message to them from the Cross- the message of forgiveness. Jesus’ final act towards His people on earth was one of forgiveness.
Message of forgiveness in the word of God
Jesus says in Matthew 5:44, “But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” He did not merely instruct us, but He set an example from the Cross when He prayed for His tormentors, an example He expects us to emulate. When we are wounded, we shouldn’t look for ways to revengefully repay the person who has wounded us. Romans 12:19 says, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” The Lord is a God of justice. He repays everyone according to their deeds. All we have to do is forgive and pray for those who have inflicted pain on us, leaving the execution of justice to God.
To forgive does not mean allowing ourselves to be trampled over unjustly. The Gospel of Luke chapter 18: 1-8 recounts Jesus’ parable of the persistent widow who sought recourse against her adversary in a court of law. She hounded the judge till justice was rendered to her. Similarly, in the event of something being snatched illegally or forcefully from us, we must take necessary lawful actions to pursue the course of legal justice, in order to win back what is rightfully ours. To forgive means to conduct oneself without hate or malice. Living in forgiveness implies a purity of heart that does not seek to inflict pain or affliction on anyone. A court case may be fought with the sole intention of securing justice without the wish to see one’s opponent harmed by any means, but do it with an intention to save their soul and body from hell. If they die with illegal possessions and actions, hatred, greed, jealousy, pride, lust, anger and so on, surely, they will go to hell or purgatory. Therefore, curative and salutary legal actions are to be taken. That is not against the act of forgiveness, but it is a good act of charity and love (Ezk 3:18-19). There are five miracles that take place when one forgives, as elaborated further.
1.Forgiveness towards others leads to forgiveness of our own sins
The psalmist cries out to God in Psalms 69:4, “More in number than the hairs of my head are those who hate me without cause; many are those who would destroy me, my enemies who accuse me falsely.” Many a times, this is the kind of situation we fall into. We are falsely accused and hated without cause. This is seen especially in places of work and professional spaces.
We are reminded of Joseph in the Old Testament, who was hated by his brothers for no fault of his own, sold into slavery, falsely accused by the wife of Potiphar and later imprisoned. The Lord raised Him from the prison to the palace, and transformed a slave into the savior of Egypt at the time. We can all take a leaf out of Joseph’s book, and learn to stay true to God even when we are falsely accused, wholeheartedly surrendering and letting Him take control, because ‘He raises the needy from the dust; from the ash heap he lifts up the poor, to seat them with nobles and make a glorious throne their heritage’ (1 Samuel 2:8). Just like the Lord raised up Joseph, He will elevate and promote us if we are falsely accused, but only if we surrender and let Him be the vindicator.
In the Lord’s Prayer, one of the petitions we place before God is that He forgive our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Jesus says that if we forgive others their transgressions, our heavenly Father will forgive us, but if we don’t, our Father will not forgive us (Matthew 6:14-15). It is almost like there’s a condition, but our Father is a forgiving father, and He forgives us even though we may not forgive others. However, when we do not forgive, the consequences of our sins remain even though they are forgiven. Therefore, to rid ourselves of sin and its ramifications, we must forgive.
2.Forgiveness is a catalyst for physical and emotional healing
Forgiveness is mostly considered to be an emotional aspect. When we forgive, we feel light emotionally and mentally. However, in reality, forgiveness has a soul-mind-body link. Thus, forgiveness has not only emotional but also physical benefits. According to several studies and research, forgiveness reduces anxiety, depression, psychiatric disorders and physical health issues. Forgiveness also lowers the risk of heart disease (Weir, K. [2017, January]. ‘Forgiveness can improve mental and physical health’ (CE Corner, 48 Retrieved from Monitor on Psychology).
Once, a lady, who seemed to be battling a mental issue, due to unforgiveness to her husband, on account of his bad habits, substance abuse and laziness, came to me for counselling during a retreat. Her husband who did not work, squandered her earnings, enjoying himself and wasting away with friends. Sick with worry, she made errors at work, causing her boss to suggest that she get mentally treated in India, as they were abroad. Taking advantage of the situation, her husband filed for divorce on grounds of insanity. Although she defended the case, she was asked to get mentally treated by doctors and other legal experts. Consequently, she was filled with anger, unforgiveness and frustration.
When she told me the entire story, I asked her if she was willing to forgive her husband who was under the grip of Satan. I asked her if she was willing set him free. While listening to God’s Word, she received the strength to forgive her husband and prayed the Binding and Casting out prayer from the Infilling of the Holy Spirit book page 103. After she forgave and prayed, her countenance shone and all the negative spirits tormenting her left her. She requested to stay on for one more retreat, on the third day of which, her husband miraculously arrived at the retreat center and asked for her forgiveness. Her forgiveness towards him, bound and cast out all the spirits controlling him. He was transformed into a different man, took up a job, and today they live with their two children happily, in the United States.
When we forgive, the spirits of depression, some kind of physical and mental ailments, and infirmities leave us. Unforgiveness is a block that prevents healing from happening. The outcome of forgiveness is that it not only brings blessing to the one who forgives, but also changes the one who is forgiven. When we forgive others, we make an active effort to bring about colossal change in their lives. It can transform them and remove all spiritual blocks in their lives as well as ours. Several infirmities, whether physical, mental or emotional, are the consequences of unforgiveness. Only when we forgive, those blocks are destroyed and only then, do we stir up the doors of blessings and deliverance to be opened in our lives.
3.Forgiveness fills us with power of the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit loves to make His home in the heart of a person who holds no grudge or resentment against anyone. Anger and frustration are the natural reactions to being hurt, but when the anger leads to sin, it is an invitation to the devil to set up residence in the heart of him who is angry. St. Paul in Ephesians 4:26-27 says, “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun set on your anger, and do not leave room for the devil.” Anger creates a space for the devil to come in and reside, and the Holy Spirit can no longer dwell in the same space.
The Holy Spirit cannot manifest His power when we are ‘in the gall of bitterness and the chains of wickedness’ (Acts 8:23) both of which come from the evil one. The fruit of the spirit is love, and unforgiveness is contrary to the nature of love. Forgiveness frees us from defilement and impurity. The Holy Spirit can descend upon us only when we are free from unforgiveness and when the Holy Spirit descends upon us, we receive power and can become witnesses of Christ (Acts 1:8). We can be witnesses of Christ and His love, only when our hearts are free from all kinds of wickedness, bitterness and dissension that sparks from the spirit of unforgiveness.
Jesus tells the Jewish elders when they observe his non-compliance with their tradition, that nothing from outside can defile a person, but what comes out of a person defiles them (Mk 7:23). Unforgiveness is one such evil that is conceived in the human heart and can defile and cause impurity in the one that allows it to grow.
In Hebrews 12:15, we read, “See to it that no one be deprived of the grace of God, that no bitter root spring up and cause trouble, through which you may become defiled.” Unforgiveness is a bitter poison that can cause immense danger and corrupt the beauty of the soul. Unforgiveness interposes itself between God and His children. In the absence of God’s grace, the devil has free reign to tarnish the souls he so longs to snatch from the abode of God.
In the new heaven and new earth portrayed in the book of Revelation, the angel shows John the river of life-giving water on whose either side grows the tree of life that produces fruit twelve times a year and whose leaves serve as medicine for the whole world. (Rev 22:1-2) Jesus is the tree, the twelve fruits are the fruit of the spirit, and the leaves are His word. The Word of God purifies us. Jesus told his disciples, “You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you” (Jn 15:3). Accordingly, we can counter unforgiveness through the life-giving Word of God, which can purify and cleanse us from all kinds of defilement and malice.
4.Forgiveness brings deliverance
Through forgiveness, there is deliverance from various bondages of the evil one. If we are under the clutches of the evil one, our intellectual, physical, emotional and spiritual faculties are also controlled by evil powers. Consequently, we aren’t able to think logically, we aren’t able to eat well, we aren’t able to regulate our emotions, and we also aren’t able to develop a relationship with God.
We often pray to be healed and delivered from different problems in our lives, without realizing that those problems can vanish only when we forgive those who have wronged us and set them free. When we release others by forgiving them, we set ourselves free too. When we forgive those who hurt us, we allow the Holy Spirit to work in our lives. When the Holy Spirit works, evil forces have no power to have dominion over us.
King Saul harbored immense hatred towards David, knowing he would be the next king of Israel. No sooner is David anointed, than Saul is tormented by an evil spirit I Sam 16:14). It was only when David himself, who was anointed by the Lord’s prophet, played the harp for him, that he experienced peace and felt peace. Hatred and unforgiveness cause the spirit of the Lord to depart from us, as it happened to Saul. When the spirit of the Lord departs, evil spirits find ready accommodation.
5. Forgiveness leads towards Anointing
God’s deliverance descends upon us only when our hearts are free from unforgiveness. ‘Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom,’ (2 Cor 3:17) and in order to be free, one must forgive, because the Holy Spirit can never reside in a heart that is blackened by unforgiveness. To make room for the Holy Spirit, means ridding ourselves of the evil of unforgiveness.
C.S. Lewis wrote,
“Real forgiveness means looking steadily at the sin, the sin that is left over without any excuse, after all allowances have been made, and seeing it in all its horror, dirt, meanness, and malice, and nevertheless being wholly reconciled to the man who has done it. That, and only that, is forgiveness, and that we can always have from God if we ask for it.”
God is the giver of all good things, and He gives generously to those who ask. Forgiveness isn’t equivalent to glorifying the error or offence committed against us. It is about looking at it in all its ugliness and yet loving the person who committed it. It is about reconciling to the person and starting afresh.
God forgives us even before we forgive others. In the parable of the unforgiving servant (Mt 18:25-35), Jesus leaves a powerful message for us, that when we experience forgiveness, we are bound to share that forgiveness with others. Just like the unforgiving servant who was thrown into the dungeon where there was weeping and grinding of teeth, so does our unforgiveness cause us to be cast away from God’s presence. Unless we forgive, we do not have a share in the light of God.
In our human capacity, it may not be easy to forgive someone who wounds, disgraces or humiliates us. Such a person may not deserve forgiveness for inflicting so great a pain on us. Gene Wolfe, the American writer wrote, ‘When a gift is deserved, it is not a gift, but a payment.’ That’s the very reason why forgiveness is a gift, because the giver bestows it on the receiver even though the latter does not deserve it.
Even though we don’t deserve it, forgiveness is a gift that God bestows on us, through Christ’s blood ‘in accord with the riches of his grace’ (Eph 1:7) and therefore we ought to bestow it on others too. (Col 3:13) Through God’s grace alone, do we receive the power to forgive, and when we forgive, we are transfigured and can partake in all the wonders God has in store for those who love Him by truly loving their neighbor. Love forgives everything (1 Cor 13:5).