In yesterday’s post we touched on the power of forgiveness to free both the offender and the one offended, including ourselves.
But sometimes the gravity of the offense is so great, the memory of the pain so intense, that the idea of forgiveness seems offensive to our sense of justice. We withhold forgiveness thinking that we have the upper hand or some sort of power over the offender. But the reality is quite the opposite. Instead of having any power over the other person or the situation, we find that in not forgiving we become enslaved to the bitterness and resentment created by the event and magnified by our memories.
Years ago, Marcia and I took a trip specifically to counsel a young woman who couldn’t forgive herself or others in her past. She was disappointed with God for not protecting her and at the same time wrapped up in her own guilt of unforgiveness. Over the course of three intensive days we read scripture together and she agreed with everything. But in the end, she could not bring herself to forgiveness, and remained confined within the prison she had created.
In her book, Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand contrasts this with the true story of a WWII prisoner of war survivor. Following a period a terrifying nightmares, drunkenness and anger stemmed from his tortuous experience, he attended a Billy Graham crusade. Filled with a sense of shame and powerlessness that had driven his need to hate his captors, he realized they were no longer his ‘monsters.’ He made a trip to the Sugarno Prison where he was kept in Japan, and attempted to see “The Bird”, one of his fiercest torturers. Refused access to the man, “all he could see of his former captor was a lost man, a life beyond redemption. He felt something he had never felt for his captor before. With a shiver of amazement, he realized that it was compassion. At that moment something shifted sweetly inside of him; it was forgiveness, beautiful and effortless and complete. For Louis Zamperini, the war was over.”
The power to forgive so great an offense comes from the Savior who first forgave us. In such light how can we withhold forgiveness from others or ourselves? Yes, the painful memories seem unbearable, but more unbearable is the pain of carrying the weight of unforgiveness all throughout your life. Say it out loud, visit the person if possible, write a note. Just don’t carry the burden of unforgiveness in your heart. Quite simply, forgiveness is for giving. It is a gift you give yourself and others.
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8