This is a response to a comment I received to yesterday’s blog on forgiveness. I appreciated the comment because it made me think even more deeply about this idea of forgiveness, something I still don’t understand, but have experienced. If you want to know what the comment was, you can take a look at yesterday’s blog and read his comment yourself. Here is my response:
Thanks for your thoughts, Colin. I don’t know you so I don’t know how you feel about using scriptures to illustrate a point. But I’ll go for it, if you don’t mind.
There is a story in the bible about a man who asked Jesus what he had to do to receive eternal life. Jesus told him to sell all he had and give it to the poor. The man went away sad because he was very rich. When asked about this, Jesus told those who had witnessed the encounter that it is hard for a person to give up everything yet that is what is required in order to enter the Kingdom of God. For a rich person, it is especially hard, because there is so much to give up. But then he added, “…what is impossible for man is possible for God.”
I don’t think Jesus was talking about material wealth. He was talking about attachment to anything that can get in the way of living the joy-filled life that God intends for us. That can be material things but it can be attachment to almost anything, like fame or power or being right. And I don’t believe that the kingdom Jesus was talking about was the traditional idea of heaven, some happy place we go to after death as a reward for good behavior or as a stamp of approval for some doctrine we believed in while we were here on earth. Jesus said over and over again that he was talking about something totally different. “The kingdom is here, right now”, he said. He also said, “It is within you.” I don’t want to over- simplify things, but I think the kingdom Jesus talked about was closer to the idea of a state of mind or an attitude than a place.
I have experienced what I think he meant when I find myself full of compassion for someone. I have experienced it when I am struck by beauty. I have also experienced it when I have found myself able to forgive someone who hurt me in some way. I can look out at the world or at the lives of those close to me and see the harm that holding onto resentments can do. When people fear being hurt again, it is natural to want to defend oneself. It is the human thing to do. On the other side, I have seen transformation take place when people find it in themselves the courage to forgive. I have seen people change, both those who forgive and those who are forgiven. I have seen enemies come to love one another and trust one another again. Forgiveness is good medicine, it seems.
Having said that, I refer back to what Jesus said to those who were witness to his encounter with the rich man. “What is impossible for man is possible for God.” I don’t understand how forgiveness can happen. I have forgiven a lot, but others have forgiven a lot more harm than I have ever experienced. Truthfully, it kind of baffles me. For me, Jesus words are as good an explanation as any I have heard – forgiveness is God’s work.
I will add this. While I don’t really know how to make myself forgive (I can’t seem to force it), I have found that wanting to forgive helps the process. If I don’t want to forgive, I ask my Higher Power for the willingness. It helps when I pray for the well-being and happiness of the person who hurt me. (An old Buddhist trick). Once I want to forgive, really want to, opportunities usually come along to help me see and understand things in a different way. And then, forgiveness sort of happens while I am not even looking. I wake up one day and realize the angry thoughts have not been on my mind for a long time, or I don’t feel my blood pressure rise any more when I do remember the harm done. I find myself being present to the person who once did me harm in a different way. I guess you could call it a miracle.