Christian Living · Reflections

Five Principles of Forgiveness

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One of the keys to be happy is learning to forgive, yet we all know that it is unnatural for us to “turn the other cheek.” In fact, not only is forgiveness difficult to grant, but it can also be perplexing to fully comprehend its depth. That is why, through this blog post, I hope that we could learn to extend forgiveness more sincerely.

1. “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” CS Lewis

It is a common saying that to err is human but to forgive is divine. This is because it is inherent for humans to be fallible yet wreak revenge when wronged, so to overlook such offenses would be a transcendent act. But just as God forgives all our iniquities, we must also pardon the mistakes of others. Yes, it is difficult but God expects us to strive for perfection (Hebrews 6:1) through loving each other, even our enemies, unconditionally (Matthew 5:44). After all, love covers a multitude of sins (I Peter 4:8).

2. “Be not angry that you cannot make others as you wish them to be, since you cannot make yourself as you wish to be.” – Thomas à Kempis

This principle is in no way condoning sin. It is not the same as what people usually say, “don’t judge me just because I sin differently than you.” At first we might think that these two sayings convey the same message but close scrutiny will prove otherwise. The first one talks about how we should not expect others to change when we ourselves struggle to do so.  The second one is just a carnal way of justifying our wrongdoings. Some would even go as far as use Matthew 7:1-3 and say “why do you look at the speck in my eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?” But we should not use this to excuse our flaws, but rather apply it to ourselves so we could become more patient, gracious, and merciful to others.

3. “Don’t treat people as bad as they are, treat them as good as you are.” – unknown

This profound saying is reminiscent of the equally profound “Paradoxical Commandments” written by Kent Keith when he was a sophomore at Harvard College, as part of a 1968 book for student leaders. When it spread, it has been mistakenly attributed to Mother Theresa since she placed it up on the wall of her children’s home in Calcutta (source). Nevertheless, it encapsulates why we should persevere on doing good to others even though they may not usually reciprocate it.

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered; forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives; be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win fake friends & true enemies; succeed anyway.
If you are honest & sincere, people may deceive you; be honest & sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight; create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous; be happy anyway.
The good that you do today, will often be forgotten; do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough; give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God.
It was never between you and them anyway.

4. “Learn from the burn, but forgive to live.” – Deborah Smith Pegues

In page 56 of her Bible-based book “30 Days to Taming Your Tongue,” life coach and speaker Deborah Smith Pegues discusses how to deal with a “betraying tongue.” She said: “Have you released the offender in your heart and no longer desire vengeance? If not, you are still bound to him and he is still controlling your life. Let it go. God saw the betrayal before it happened and while it is happening. Since He chose not to intervene, accept it as part of His sovereign plan for your life. Learn from the burn, but forgive to live. Remind yourself that in the final analysis, the incident will work together for your good because you love God and are called according to His purpose.” There are two fundamental principles in this line. First, we should be wise enough to learn the lessons from the experience. Second, forgiving allows us to live because only by letting go of the hurt can we truly heal and move on.

5. “Forget how much it hurts and try again” – unknown

Forgiveness has always been paired with forgetting so much so that it seems like the former wouldn’t work without the latter. But I think we could all agree that between the two, it is the forgetting that we wrestle with more. As French poet Charles Baudelaire wrote, “remembering is only a new form of suffering.” But what does it mean to forget? Does that mean we are not to be reminded of the incident ever again? Of course not. It means that if we do remember, we do not linger in the pain anymore. We stop holding on to the resentment and bitterness by leaving it in God’s hands, and keep on trying again.

My bestfriend has always told me that while reconciliation entails two people, forgiveness only requires one — ourselves. Indeed, all it takes is for us to make that decision to forgive and forget, and let God fight our battles. In due time, we will reap if we do not lose heart (Galatians 6:9).

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