What do you do when you have a problem you need solving? I will admit that sometimes I’ll go to Google for answers to some of my concerns. I will type in my question in that little rectangle, add ‘Christian’ on the end for good measure and hope to find an answer. Admittedly, this can be very dangerous and sometimes – but this is normal with most questions asked, even when we ask people instead of search engines – I only end up with more unanswered questions.
So my latest issue concerned a couple of people who I was really struggling to forgive. The problem is that I don’t really know these people and when I searched for what I thought was a common problem; I found the opposite seemed to be true for the rest of the internet universe. You see I found it really difficult to forgive someone I did not know very well and easier to forgive someone who I had known for a long time and love very much. I just assumed that everyone would find it easier to forgive a person with who they have had mostly positive experiences and had invested a lot of emotional and spiritual energy in building a relationship together. While with a person who I don’t know very well and have shared very little together, I don’t see what there is to repair. There is nothing good that I can associate with that person. In terms of actual relationships, I couldn’t see what I had to lose by not forgiving them. So why was it easier for everyone else to forgive these people and not their children, spouses, old friends, or parents?
In hindsight, I can see that of course, neither way is more right, but I wondered if the reason I found more answers to the question I wasn’t asking had something to do with our culture. It seems that when there is a problem with another person, the answer from society is to give up and start again somewhere else. Especially with marriages – even couples who have been married for decades are divorcing at an ever-increasing rate. Many of us have been educated to quit.
So after having established that I had somehow overcome the lie that quitting is the answer and was feeling mildly pleased that I hadn’t succumbed to the world’s logic concerning this matter, I had to admit that Jesus didn’t teach us to only forgive those with whom we had an emotional and spiritual investment. I tried to reason that I had at least forgiven the more important person in my life, so not forgiving the other less non-important person was just a small sin. But I struggled in my heart because I knew that there was no measuring stick for forgiveness. Jesus Christ taught: “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15).
We need to act in Love, Jesus said that the greatest command was that we should love each other. And 1 Corinthians 13:5 states that love “…keeps no record of wrongs…” In fact, Christianity itself is based on forgiveness. So how can I justify leaving out this ‘small’ forgiveness? Why was this so hard for me?
Others would say that it is easier to forgive someone you don’t know well for the same reason that I find it difficult. Because there is no connection because the person you know best should be the one you can trust and it is normal for someone you don’t really know well to hurt you because they don’t really know you either. But the question I always wanted to ask the person I didn’t know well is why? What did I do to them that made them want to hurt me? Was that even their intention? What was their intention? Do they feel bad about what happened? But what good would it do me to know the answers to these questions? Surely people have all kinds of issues in their life – these answers weren’t going to make me feel better because what I really wanted was justice. Being angry would not bring me justice, I had to trust God.
Ultimately I came to realise that I had to let go of my anger and admit that small or not, if I didn’t forgive these people it would be me who would suffer. Charles Spurgeon, inspired by Song of Songs 2:15, put it very well, “A little thorn may cause much suffering. A little cloud may hide the sun. Little foxes spoil the vines, and little sins do mischief to the tender heart. These little sins burrow in the soul and make it full of that which is hateful to Christ, that he will hold no comfortable fellowship and communion with us. A great sin cannot destroy a Christian, but a little sin can make him miserable.”
This so-called ‘little’ sin I was holding on to by not forgiving these people was making me miserable. So check yourself and be sure that you are not holding on to what you think are ‘little’ sins or they will eat away at you slowly until you realise one day that you’re not connected to Jesus anymore. “If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.” (John 15:6)
Sara Atteby: Is it possible to be indifferent?
If you don’t love someone, do you then by default hate them? What else is there? Is there a middle ground? To like?
First, what is not love? Using 1 Cor. 13:4-8 as our guide ‘not love’ is not patient, not kind, it boasts, it is proud, it dishonours others, it is self-seeking, it is easily angered, it keeps a record of wrongs. It delights in evil and does not rejoice with the truth. It never protects, never trusts, never hopes, never perseveres. It fails. ‘not love’ is a failure.