The eminent English Poet, Alexander Pope (1688-1744) told us, "to err is human, to forgive divine." The art of forgiving is one of the most difficult principles for us to understand and put into a lifestyle. Yet, it is the one concept which brings the most peace to one willing to forgive.
Forgiving others is an art, but it is not natural. Like any other art, we can learn to forgive. Although some people do seem to be born with a disposition that makes them more incline to forgive, nobody genuinely forgives everyone in every circumstance.
We are each born with our own temperament, which is a basic building block of our behavior and personality. Other factors, such as family, birth order and environment combine with our temperament and help make us who we are today. Inherent in our temperament is our tendency to forgive or to hold a grudge.
We can go into any hospital nursery or daycare, watch babies for a few moments, and see these temperaments in action. A tiny little girl wrapped in a pink blanket in the corner will smile (yes babies smile) and coo at the nurses. She takes everything in stride. The little bundle of joy next to her will scream when someone touches her, or because someone is not holding her, or if they are not feeding her fast enough.
In the daycare, we can observe three-year-olds interact. The strong willed Choleric lines all the other children up to play the games her way. The Melancholy will allow this as long as she likes the Choleric, but she will not be told what to do for long. The Phlegmatic is not impressed with her ideas or her game, but she will play to keep the peace. The Supine will follow her anywhere and obey every command while the Sanguine is too busy laughing with her friends to concentrate on the game. These five basic temperaments are the building block of our personality. Our temperament influences our ability to forgive.
In a perfect world, we have parents who wisely guide and teach us to forgive others. Unfortunately, most parents are struggling with their own issues and grudges and they fail to teach this fundamental truth to their children.
The Bible has many things to say about forgiveness. Hebrews contains one of my favorite Scriptures, "Looking diligently lest any fail of the grace of God, or lest any root of bitterness springing up disturb you, and by it many are defiled" (Hebrews 12:15 MKJV).
If we do not learn to forgive others, we can easily destroy our own lives and the lives of everyone we love or who loves us. We have all been around someone who never to let go of the pain from a trauma they experienced early in life. Bitterness seeps into everything they do. They cannot trust, so they look for the bad in others rather than the good. They offend easily and become angry for the smallest slight, whether real or perceived. Lack of forgiveness saps energy and destroys creativity, and makes us horrible people to be around.
We can learn to forgive. When we do, our relationships are stronger, and we can receive God's mercy. Jesus suffered more pain and humiliation than any of us ever will. Yet while He was hanging on the cross nearly His last words were, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do" (Luke 23:34 MKJV).
Jesus never held a grudge over at what they did to him. He understood that these mortals would give an account to God one day for their actions. He knew he was here for one reason, and the cross was an enormous part of that purpose. He learned to trust God with the plan for his life, including the cross.
Years ago, we resigned a church we had worked hard to build into a thriving, beautiful congregation of terrific people. Most of the people were not aware of the tension between a couple of the board members and us. This was one of the most painful experiences in my life. Before we left, two men had treated us badly. We loved those people and never spoke out against them, even taking undeserved abuse during the transition.
One day when these two men were rude in a church meeting, God showed my husband and my son two angels sitting on the platform. They had tears rolling down their cheeks. Both of them had a pen and scroll in their hands, writing down everything that was happening. The cruel behavior grieved God and the angels as much as it did us.
God used this experience to teach me that He knew what we had been through, and he recorded it all. It hurt terribly, but we realized those men would stand before Him one day and account for their actions. That difficult time in my life was a turning point. From then on, I knew that God was in control even when I could not be.
Every one of us experience heartbreak and pain. We grieve over the unkind things people do to us. We must work our way through it. We cannot allow ourselves to hold onto the bitterness and let it destroy us.
If we can get our eyes off the one who has hurt us and focus on the eternal consequences of their actions, we can even love them. God is not as concerned with what we go through as much as he is with our response to it. Our response to injustice is the mortar that goes between the bricks of events building our lives.
Forgiveness is not an option. We cannot choose whether we will forgive. It is necessary. Without it, there is nothing but pain and anger ahead. Alexander Pope was right when he said, to err is human, and to forgive is divine.
Dr. Schuetz is an ordained minister and has been in ministry with her husband for twenty-five years. She has a PhD in clinical Christian counseling. She and her husband, Michael, of 33 years have 2 sons, 1 daughter, 9 grandchildren.