We are all victims, at one time or another, in this life. We, as humans, are all caught in the Universal Laws; the cycle of good and bad, happiness and sadness. All of us are consequently at the effect of our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual world. If we always felt responsible for our life situations, we would never be victims, and thus, never need to forgive.
Although we could consider forgiveness as one option to remedy the feeling of victimization, we might possibly squirm at the thought of forgiving, as Jesus puts it, “…not seven times, but seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:21-22). Realistically speaking, who can forgive repeated assaults on our being, no matter how harsh or slight? Can you imagine someone harming you repeatedly, and expect that you must continually forgive that person over and over again? Let us not be so sure that Jesus meant his words literally. Jesus was known to speak in parables, a symbolic language. Yet, what we can assert is that Jesus intended for us to transcend our being in a way that was uncommon.
To understand an uncommon suggestion, we must first look at what is naturally common in forgiveness. Webster’s dictionary keys one of its definitions of forgive as follows: to grant pardon or remission of (an offence, sin, etc.); absolve.
The act of bestowing the honor of forgiveness on someone when they have deliberately hurt you could be considered a common viewpoint toward forgiveness. When defined this way, we seem to view the forgiver as having the right to bestow a pardon.
In serious situations, it may be difficult to forgive, even if one has good intentions. Most often the anger, heating up inside us, is hard to let go. Certainly, an angry heart has no capacity to forgive. Perhaps the pain is too great, and the assault too horrible. If this is the case, then we could choose not to bestow pardon. How can we forgive when there is no room in our heart to do so? When we live within the parameters of Webster’s definition, forgiveness is nothing more than a commodity that quickly becomes a chore.
In Rabbi Rami Shapiro’s Guide to Forgiveness he suggests that forgiveness isn’t so much an act as an attitude. He states that forgiveness happens when we realize that people are not out to get us, but out to take care of themselves. He also asserts that forgiveness is crucial to right living because it frees you from the past that you might engage in the present, both good and bad.
Once we step beyond the common viewpoint of forgiveness, we can take into consideration the key component necessary to truly forgive: compassion. With compassion comes the virtuous humility necessary to realize that we are all doing the best we can for the moment. It allows us to take on a broader perspective; opening our heart to the possibility that the other person may also be hurting and trying to meet the challenges of their life while they struggle with their own limited vision.
We are all caught, equally, in the spiral of ups and downs, all at the effect of one another and the world. Jesus of Nazareth reminded us that God is all inclusive, and he encouraged us to, again, step beyond the norm:
“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
so that you may be children of your father in heaven; for
He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and
sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous, for if you
love those who love you; what reward do you have? Do
not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet
only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing
than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be
perfect*, therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect
(Matthew 5:44-48 NRSV)
With compassion and humility as the key components necessary to truly forgive others, we must aquire a deeper understanding our ourselves; including the willingness to examine our ego driven intentions and the ability to open our heart in order to embody these qualities.
Keep in mind that a person of a compassionate heart has no anger because anger and compassion cannot exist at the same time. Therefore the one with anger may need to forgive but the compassionate one has already forgiven.
*The word Perfect has often been translated from the Hebrew word Shalem also meaning whole; all inclusive.