Over the years I’ve come into contact with several examples of Christlike forgiveness. Many believers who remain trapped in decades of bitterness and unforgiveness, certainly will come to understand how utterly unjustified their bitterness is when they look at what God has done in the lives of others.
In the late 1970’s I was one of those who was requested to pray for the Lord to take the late Corrie ten Boom, who had at that time just suffered a debilitating stroke. Many will recall her from the book and movie The Hiding Place, or her other books as well. As it turned out, she had several more years to stay with us, and during that time became a witness that someone who cannot even speak plainly can show a radiant communion with God. But many forget that part of what she had to deal with to have her extraordinary ministry after World War II was an occasion which called for a deep forgiveness which many people will never have to contemplate. For at one time a former prison guard, who had played a large part in the death of her sister Betsie, met her, gave his testimony to having found a joyous salvation in Christ, and extended his hand to ask her forgiveness. And in what was doubtless a remarkable inward spiritual battle even by her own testimony, she extended her hand to extend her forgiveness.
The second example is that of Robert and Charlotte Hullinger. They were able by the grace of God to forgive Bill Coday, who murdered their daughter Lisa in September 1978.
The third example is that of the evangelical Christians in Lebanon. During the fall of 1987, I was privileged to spend time with my friend Darrell Phenicie, who served as a missionary with the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Beirut. I was very glad to have been able to get Darrell a short interview on the local radio station. There was one thing that he said during that interview which has stayed with me ever since. He mentioned how he and the other leaders in the church taught the believers that the violence stops when it comes to them, that they were to be examples of the forgiveness and love of Christ no matter how they were treated.
It has been my observation (and I don’t think that it is unique to me) that once a believer – no matter what his or her position, previous achievements or reputation – starts to count up and brood over the wrongs that he or she thinks someone else has done to him or her, that at that point that person experiences a sudden halt in his or her growth in Christ, and, if this continues, a growing degradation, into a deepening bitterness and vindictiveness. Often enough, as time wears on, these same people become malicious sponges for the grudges of others and continuous critics, gossips and backstabbers.
Forgiveness of others, no matter how great the crime against us or small and unintentional the slight, is part of the key to maintaining a life in fellowship with Christ. It is often extremely hard to do so, though for someone who truly loves Jesus Christ and seeks to be obedient to his explicit commands in his Word, it is truly necessary. Even more, it becomes easier when that person realizes that it is not excusing any evil, however monstrous the deed, but rather something to be done out of obedience and love to Christ, and for his sake alone. Moreover, the ultimate example of forgiveness is Jesus himself, when he said, during his own crucifixion, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
So, if you are a person who claims to be a follower of Christ, review your log of hurts, slights, grudges and complaints about others. Make them a matter of explicit forgiveness before God. What that person said or did is not too monstrous before God for you to forgive. Understand that God did not give you either the wisdom, power or authority to hold whatever happened in your heart or to use it against that person at any time for any reason. Take the time in prayer before God to declare your forgiveness for that person for that deed forever. Write it down somewhere, in a personal prayer journal if you have one, that you have forgiven that person and for what. If you have a problem with bringing it back to memory, erase what you have written about the offense, or use white-out to blot it out. Do not bring whatever happened again up to use it against that person ever again. Jesus himself gave the direction on when and how this is to be done: “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins” (Mark 11:25).
All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.