Too soon to forgive?
A Christian Science perspective: Love is the first ingredient to letting go of grudges.
How often do we bear a grudge, thinking that it is too soon to forgive? If we’re waiting for the other person to make the first move toward forgiveness, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised at longstanding religious or racial animosity. How much more quickly might we – both as individuals and nations – get beyond conflict to reconciliation and healing if we would be the first ones to forgive?
Love is the primary ingredient of forgiveness, and genuine love doesn’t take time to warm up. It doesn’t run out of endurance, either, because it stems from God, who is divine Love. Divine Love is the power at work that turns our thoughts toward forgiveness. It’s divine Love, too, that pushes us beyond the feeling that love starts and stops with our moods and circumstances. Then, forgiveness becomes more possible and practical to us.
Our role as citizens in a world community is to bring wisdom and spiritual maturity to bear where there are entrenched attitudes. The sooner we can pardon others with love, the sooner we put a stop to the emotions that perpetuate feuding.
If we are wondering why we should pardon others who have done wrong, we might think of Christ Jesus and how quickly he forgave. It was during his crucifixion – not after the resurrection – that he said: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Forgiving as Jesus did requires a heart and mind close to God.
Jesus’ forgiveness didn’t involve just one human being excusing the crimes of another. He was doing what he had done all through his life – looking at his fellowman from a spiritual perspective.
If we want to be better at this kind of forgiving, perhaps we can consider how God, Love itself, forgives. The Bible says of God: “He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel” (Numbers 23:21). We could hardly say that sin goes unpunished in the Bible, but at the same time there are many indications that God made man as His holy creation, sinless and guiltless.
Christian Science teaches the biblical truth that man is a spiritual creation and reflects God’s nature. God cannot create evil, because His nature is totally good. God has made man as the immortal witness to Love’s being. During the moments that our thoughts are full of anger, this spiritual truth might seem farther away than Mars. But mortal consciousness with its hates and fears is not the truth of God’s man. A more reliable witness to what man is as Love’s image can be found in Christ Jesus’ life. His resurrection is the enduring proof that Love is supreme and destroys hatred.
To recognize our own – and our neighbor’s – sinless nature as God’s child takes repentance. Truly, there is nothing theoretical about forgiveness. Sin has to be abandoned. We have to let Love wash away resentment. But when affection begins to replace anger, we are closer to understanding that sin isn’t as permanent or real as it would seem. Such understanding shields us from harm through God’s power at the same time that it eliminates rancor on both sides of a disagreement. You could say that forgiveness robs a fight of fuel.
In the process of discovering Christian Science and founding her church, Mary Baker Eddy faced – and forgave – the many wrongs done to her. She could write from her experience of God’s love in her book “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures”: “The destruction of sin is the divine method of pardon. Divine Life destroys death, Truth destroys error, and Love destroys hate. Being destroyed, sin needs no other form of forgiveness” (p. 339).
As we take our opportunities to forgive, we’ll find more Christly qualities entering our lives. It is never really too soon to forgive, because it is never too early to feel the effects of Love removing hate. From the events within our home circle to the larger issues that touch our world, forgiveness has a part to play – a part that starts with our own willingness to forgive.
Reprinted from the June 19, 1991, issue of The Christian Science Monitor.