“Father forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing” cried Jesus as he hung there dying. He’d just been betrayed, abused, spat upon, beaten, mocked, whipped, and nailed to a cross.
“Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us” is a central part of the Lord’s Prayer.
“How many times must I forgive someone?” asked the disciples, to which Jesus’ reply said “as many times as they sin against you”.
Jesus was pretty hot on forgiveness.
Throughout the Bible there are instructions that we should forgive others, and examples of God forgiving us.
Why is this so important? How does it square with our sense of justice and our rights?
We all agree that doing bad things deserves punishment; it’s justice isn’t it? If you knock my tooth out then I should be allowed to knock your tooth out. If you steal from me then you should go to prison. If you kill my wife you should be hanged.
The trouble is, punishment doesn’t actually fix anything. It doesn’t fix my tooth if I knock yours out. It doesn’t return my possessions if you go to prison. It doesn’t return my wife if you are hanged. The hurt is still there, even if justice is satisfied. And when I meet your mother and see her grief after you’ve been hanged, does that make me feel any better?
Forgiveness is what allows us to move forward.
Forgiveness gives up our right to justice. Forgiveness gives up our right to revenge. Forgiveness frees us from the need to feel bitterness. Forgiveness frees us from the need to be angry.
It is not always easy to forgive, although it gets easier with practice. It is not something that our feelings naturally want to do. When we’ve been wronged, we keep replaying conversations in our head that justify why we have a right to feel hurt. We seek justice and if that’s not forthcoming, revenge. Christ’s leadership and example doesn’t say it’s easy, but he says it’s essential for our wellbeing. It wasn’t easy for him to hang from that cross and say ‘Father forgive them’, but it was essential. Forgiveness is vitally important for the healing of the one who has been wronged.