How can we forgive?
A Christian Science perspective.
When an encounter seems devastating, or words spoken feel so unkind, it’s often difficult not to react. At first one may feel hurt, disappointed, heartbroken, resentful, mystified – how could this have happened? How often in our daily lives do we find ourselves upset by the words or actions of others – friends, colleagues, church members, government officials, or even relatives? How can we regain our peace and joy in the face of such encounters?
A good place to begin is to ask yourself what God knows about you. In the face of what seems untoward, I’ve found that I can reassure myself that an all-loving God knows only what is true. Any sense of an unloving occurrence is a distorted sense of what is true.
Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer of Christian Science, must have considered this topic of crucial importance, for she chose a short article, ”Taking Offense,” to include in the first issue of The Christian Science Journal. This article says, in part: “To punish ourselves for others’ faults, is superlative folly. The mental arrow shot from another’s bow is practically harmless, unless our own thought barbs it” (“Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896,” pp. 223-224).
If my thought has been barbed, or if I’ve held on to an upsetting experience, I can turn to Almighty God for the inspiration that will lift my thinking higher, up to the understanding that good alone is real. Knowing that God’s divine creation is completely spiritual, not material, as explained in the Bible (see Genesis, Chapter 1), I can reassure myself that God, the one divine Mind, has created all His children as loving individuals living in harmony. Each one is an immortal idea, frictionless, not interfering in any way with the progress of other ideas. Affirming this spiritual truth frees me from the inclination to react to others.
The material laws of physics say that for every material action there is an equal and opposite reaction. However, in God’s universe, where each of us truly lives, all action flows from God, and we express only His action, which always blesses.
Where does the challenge lie? Is it outside our own thought in the consciousness of another? Do we need to straighten out someone so that he or she doesn’t repeat the offense? Do we need to make people understand how they have wronged us? No, we don’t, because we never need to change anything except our own consciousness.
In truth, the consciousness of each of us is the reflection of God’s purity and grace. These qualities belong to everyone. Acknowledging this and living accordingly blesses everyone. This is the consciousness in which forgiving our neighbor is natural, and that uplifts humanity to a gentler, more peaceful existence.
The Bible, in its first book, tells of the practice of forgiving in the account of Joseph forgiving his brothers for selling him into slavery many years earlier. Not only did Joseph forgive them, but he also fed his brothers and made a home for them in Egypt.
The task of forgiving is so fundamental to Christianity as an outgrowth of Old Testament theology that Jesus included it in his teaching to the disciples in what has come to be known as the Sermon on the Mount. “[L]ove your enemies,” it says, “bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you,...”
When Jesus counseled to turn the other cheek when offended, the disciple Peter was quick to question, How often? Jesus’ answer, “until seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22), can be understood to mean endlessly. This must involve a constant erasing of our mental slate, for the Lord’s Prayer directs us to ask God to “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” This prayer demands us to forgive, and we will be forgiven.
Forgiving involves releasing the experience from our thought; that is, not retaining it as ever having taken place. To remain bitter retains rather than destroys the wrongdoing. As Mrs. Eddy states, “Blindness and self-righteousness cling fast to iniquity” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 448).
One definition of “forgive” is to send away, to reject. Jesus taught his disciples, and us, to dismiss offenses – not to impute them to ourselves or to another.
At the crucifixion, Jesus was able to say, and those nearby could hear, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Of that event, Mrs. Eddy wrote, “The last act of the tragedy on Calvary rent the veil of matter, and unveiled Love’s great legacy to mortals: Love forgiving its enemies” (“Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896,” p. 124).
Jesus understood that it was hatred and envy that had brought him to that experience; those false traits had blinded people to his true Christly nature. But those traits could not destroy Jesus. Likewise, whatever sharp experiences confront us have no power to alter the course of our lives, which are forever impelled spiritward by God’s protecting power. Peace and progress are divine laws always operating on our behalf.