by Beverly Ward
March 20, 2022
Definition: Forgiveness is a decision to change your stance toward a wrongdoer from one of bitterness to one of compassion. It might be forgiving someone else or yourself. It is letting go of anger, resentment, and other emotions associated with an injustice, even though they are reasonable feelings. It involves seeing the offender with compassion, even though they are not entitled to it. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting or condoning the wrongdoing, granting legal mercy, or reconciling a relationship. You can forgive a person while in no way condoning or justifying the offense.
From Science: Forgiveness has been shown to lower blood pressure in cardiac patients, and decrease release of the hormones cortisol and adrenaline, increased levels of which cause stress and anxiety and impede problem solving and creativity. Forgiveness is linked to increased feelings of optimism, hope, and happiness and can protect against development of mental illnesses such as depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Conversely, unforgiveness can cause a lot of harm; it is famously said that unforgiveness is “like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die”. “Forgiveness is setting the prisoner free, only to find out that the prisoner was me”, Corrie ten Boom.
From Scripture: Scripture contains over 120 verses on forgiveness and many narrative accounts illustrating it, including that of Joseph. Joseph was the apple of his father’s eye, the favorite of his twelve sons. As his father’s favor upon Joseph flourished, so did his brothers' resentment. When Joseph showed up in a field where his brothers were working wearing an extravagant coat gifted him by his father, his brothers succumbed to their baser desires and sold him to a passing band of Midianites. Through a series of providential events, Joseph became the second in command in Egypt. He got a divine heads-up about a great famine that would sweep the earth and God supplied a work-around: produce and store massive quantities of grain for many years. Joseph obediently carried out the stockpiling of grain, and the famine eventually came. Back in Canaan, Joseph’s hungry family heard of a ruler in Egypt who could fill their empty bellies. The brothers came to Egypt and appeared before Joseph, who recognized them immediately. Joseph was not ready to forgive. He did not rejoice to see his brothers, in fact, he pretended to be a stranger and made life very difficult for them for a time. He accused them of being spies, although he knew they were not, he demanded that they bring their youngest brother, Benjamin, to Egypt, despite their father’s forbidding it, he imprisoned one brother, he framed them as thieves, and let them think Benjamin would be held accountable for the crime; in short, he terrified them and made them miserable. Eventually, in a tear-jerking scene, Joseph, overcome with great emotion, reveals himself to his distraught brothers whom he not only forgives but blesses.
Reconciliation does not always accompany forgiveness, but in Joseph’s case it did, resulting in the family of Abraham relocating to the land of Egypt, an important event in the fulfillment of God’s great plan for the redemption of humanity. Had Joseph chosen not to forgive, God would certainly have accomplished His plan through another means, but Joseph would have missed being a part of it and the blessings that came to him and his family through his act of forgiving. (My brief telling of this story falls woefully short of its remarkable glory, you will not want to miss reading it in Genesis 37-45. Have your tissue ready!).
Action Plan: Most likely, if you have made it this far in your reading, someone has already come to mind that you need to forgive, I encourage you to determine now that you will do so. Corrie ten Boom shares that “Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart”. The first step is to choose to forgive, the next step is to work through the process of replacing bitterness with compassion. I believe this change of heart can be helped along with prayer, meditation on scripture, and with practical tools, like journaling. If you journal, let your writing focus on seeing your offender with eyes of grace, I would say ask God to help you see them as He sees them. Remember that the goal of your writing is not to bring reconciliation, that is a separate decision, and you may choose in favor of or against it. You will know when you have succeeded in fully letting go, but until you do, be faithful to your decision to forgive. The offense was not okay, but you can be.
Below are two stories of forgiveness that may encourage your heart .
Hear Renee’s story of forgiving the man who killed her daughter and the song it inspired music artist Matthew West to write.
Hear, in her own words, Corrie ten Boom’s account of forgiving a Nazi guard who tortured her and her beloved sister, Betsie .