Tearing Down the Walls
Jesus forgave His wrongdoers because He knew they were imperfect. He also forgave them, I believe, because He knew that people need the kind of true fellowship that only forgiveness can bring—fellowship with God first and then with one another.
Jesus’ crucifixion removed the rift that existed between God and all humankind. Now, as His followers, we are called to remove the rifts that exist in our various relationships. As 2 Corinthians 5:18 tells us, “God…has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.”
Few feelings are more painful than the feeling of alienation from the people around us. We all need fellowship with other people! For this reason, the worst thing we can do when we’ve been mistreated is to hold a grudge or try to retaliate; these things only strain the relationship further and cause more alienation. We must forgive instead, taking that first step toward reconciling the relationship.
When Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them,” He wasn’t removing His wrongdoers’ responsibility; He was removing their guilt. And by removing their guilt, He was tearing down the wall of defensiveness that alienated them—and us—from God.
That’s what happens when we forgive people: They no longer feel the need to be on the defensive because we have sent the message that their actions are not our focus; rather, the relationship is what is important to us. In other words, we’ve let them know we’re not willing to allow anything—not even their hurtful words or deeds—to separate us from the love we should have for one another.
When we don’t forgive, however, we erect a wall that keeps us from reconciling and sharing love with the ones who’ve mistreated us. Forgiveness, on the other hand, opens the door for reconciliation and makes possible a new, lasting fellowship based on love.
Forgiveness brings with it a wonderful sense of freedom. When we forgive others, we’re free from the anger, frustration and anxiety of holding a grudge or trying to get even. When others forgive us, we’re free from the guilt and fear that makes us want to seclude ourselves and duck behind every wall.
Once we understand that no one is out to get us, that we don’t have to watch our backs for fear that we’re going to get stabbed, then we can begin to feel the peace and freedom necessary to open the way for true fellowship with others.
But what if the people who mistreat us never admit their mistakes or ask for our forgiveness? Do we still have to forgive? The answer is yes. If Jesus could find the strength to say, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do”; if He could find the mercy in the midst of a blood bath to forgive His transgressors, despite their lack of remorse; then certainly we in our smallness can forgive those who have treated us unfairly, whether they ask for it or not.
It doesn’t matter who begins the process—the one who needs to ask forgiveness or the one who needs to give it. Forgiveness is always the healthy way to go. When we choose not to forgive, we end up holding on to what causes us pain. We become weighed down by negative emotions that hinder our emotional and spiritual growth.
Consider the physical body: When food we’ve eaten is “held” too long and not removed in due time, it turns toxic. It becomes a poison that can create sickness and disease and eventually kill us.
Similarly, the emotions that we attach to an offense can become toxic. If we hold on to them, they can sicken us and eventually kill us. Forgiveness is the only way to remove the poison—and the sooner, the better.
We must forgive. Yes, it can be difficult. Our old self is still active. Our anger, pain and sense of betrayal cry out to be fed.
But if we look to Jesus as our example and allow the Holy Spirit to renew our minds day by day, we can conquer the unforgiveness factor in our lives. I know. We can be free at last.
Bernice A. King, 38, the youngest daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, is a minister and licensed attorney living in Atlanta, Georgia.
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