Authored by Mara Hodler
I once read a definition of forgiveness that said: forgiveness; to make it as if the wrong had never happened. That sounds about like God’s definition of forgiveness. Picture a field of pure white snow, and smack dab in the middle of that field, a pool of blood. Gruesome, I know. It’s also very noticeable. The red against the white is pretty hard to miss. Along comes a fresh snowfall, and all that blood is covered up, just as if it were never there. That is how God forgives; He makes it as if the wrong had never happened.
“Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”1 That is a passage from the first chapter in the book of Isaiah. In the beginning of the chapter, God is rebuking Israel for having turned away from Him, rebelled, and basically become like Sodom and Gomorrah.
But after 15 verses of telling them that they have turned away from Him, the message abruptly changes to one of redemption. He says to make themselves clean, learn to do good, seek justice, and finally, that even though their sins are as scarlet, He will make them white as snow.
For us humans, forgiveness of that magnitude is hard to pull off. It’s just hard to take your hurt, your anger, the injustice you feel you have been dealt, and “make it like it never happened.” I won’t profess to fully understand forgiveness, because, well … I don’t. But here are a few things I know to be true about forgiveness:
Forgiveness puts your heart right with God.
You’ve probably heard the verse that says, “If you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.”2 This goes back to the basic fact that we are all sinners who need God’s forgiveness.3 To God, all sin is appalling. My sins are no more pleasing to God than someone else’s; they’re just as bad as those of the guy who’s sinning against me. All sin separates us from God, and if we want to have a relationship with Him, we need His forgiveness; therefore we need to forgive others. This is easy to do with the friend who steps on your toe, or even the friend who ruins your favorite shirt. It’s altogether more difficult to forgive parents or friends who you feel have let you down, or a boyfriend/girlfriend who hurt you, or a person who caused you a life-changing difficulty. So what do you do then?
Forgiveness heals you.
It really is true that forgiving others is often the first step in allowing yourself to begin healing from whatever it is that hurt you. You may have heard that little proverb that says “holding on to resentment is like taking poison and expecting the other person to suffer.” Regardless of the other person’s fault, or how much justice they deserve, resentment hurts you more than it hurts them.
It can be very hard to forgive, but it changes your life for the better.
Alas, forgiveness can be hard to dish out. Sometimes, for me personally, the whole “make it like it has never happened” is just too high a hurdle to jump on the first round. I have all kinds of feelings about the situation, the person, the future, the past. Even if I wanted to sweep it all under the carpet, I just don’t have a big enough carpet. I’ve found the illustration of the oyster helps me to visualize how I can at least begin the healing and forgiveness process. When a grain of sand gets stuck inside an oyster’s shell, it doesn’t get turned into a pearl overnight. In fact, it takes at least a few years to make a pearl. The really big and valuable ones take up to 20 years to form. The oyster starts covering it layer by layer, and eventually it’s no longer the pokey thing that irritated and disturbed it.
What you use to layer over your “grain of sand” depends on what works for you. It might be saying some sort of affirmation to yourself each time you think about the event or the person. Something like, “I have chosen to forgive them. I am not defined by that person or event. I believe in God’s love for me and His plan for my life.” Or it might be something more active like working on building a positive relationship with that person. It will probably be a combination of things that work for you, but with time and effort you will see that you have moved past whatever situation or person you’re resentful about, and have indeed forgiven.
Here’s the beautiful thing about forgiveness; it changes lives for the better. One of my favorite stories is about Jean Valjean, from Victor Hugo’s novel, Les Misérables. Jean Valjean was a convicted thief who was paroled. The kindly bishop of Digne took him in and gave him a meal and a place to sleep. Even though the priest’s housekeeper suggested he do so, the bishop did not have the fine silver put away, and the temptation was too great for Jean. In the middle of the night, he stole the silver and made off. Of course, it didn’t take long before he was apprehended by suspicious soldiers and brought back to face the bishop.
This was a pivotal moment. One word from the bishop and Valjean would have been sent to the galleys for life. But the bishop did not accuse him of anything. “The silver was a gift from me,” he said, “and, Jean, you forgot the candlesticks.” The soldiers believed him and left. “Take this silver and use it to start a new life,” the priest told him. And he did.
Forgiveness is win-win. It creates a new life for you and for the recipient of your forgiveness. Even though it’s difficult, it’s also worth it.
1 Isaiah 1:18 NIV
2 Matthew 6:14 NIV
3 Romans 3:23
Read by Amber Larriva. Music by sindustry(CC). Copyright© 2013 by The Family International