God’s Forgiveness

The Lord immediately forgives us of everything thing that we ever do that is wrong because He is love and mercy itself.  The same premise mentioned above is true for this topic too–that we have to stop doing the behavior in question in order for the forgiveness to mean anything because until we stop the Lord’s love and mercy can not enter in and find a place with us.  It is never that the Lord is not willing to forgive us, but that we are unwilling to change our behavior so have His forgiveness have effect in our life.

How Can We Forgive?

As humans we have two very different emotions which outwardly appear exactly the same: zeal and anger.  The Lord gives us four different distinctions which help us to tell the difference between the two.  1. Zeal is from God, anger is from hell.  2. Zeal comes from charity, anger comes from hatred for others.  3. Zeal seeks to defend what it loves, anger seeks to destroy something outside of itself.  4. Zeal goes away when cause goes away, but anger continues on and lasts–zeal can forgive and forget anger can’t. “My heart was hot within me; while I was musing the fire burned.” [Psalm 39:3]

A popular misconception is that acting on or expressing our anger helps it to go away.  It does not make it go away.  Our mind is like a house and anger is like a small fire burning in a corner of the house.  When we act on it it spreads and it can eventually burn down the house of our mind.  The way it destroys our spiritual mind is by destroying the truths and goods there.  Holding on to a resentment is like tossing new logs on the fire to keep it going. The Writings teach:

“When these loves are assailed, then fire from the will breaks forth into the understanding, and kindles a flame there.  This flame is what is called “anger.”  Hence it is that when one is angry, a person is said to “become heated,” to “take fire,” and to be “inflamed.”  This flame assails the truths and goods that are in the understanding, and not only hides, but also consumes them; and when this evil fire breaks forth from the will into the understanding, the latter is closed above and opened below; that is, is closed where it looks toward heaven, and is opened where it looks toward hell.” [Secrets Of Heaven 9144]

The bottom line is that anger opens hell and closes heaven.

So what does the Lord say about forgiveness??  He tells us a very poignant story.  There is a parable from the New Testament wherein a certain king was settling accounts with his servants.  One servant owed him 10,000 talents.  When it became clear he couldn’t repay the king the king was going to throw him into debtor’s prison.  The man then begged for time to repay the debt.  Well the king forgave him his entire debt–paid in full. This illustrates just how forgiving the Lord is.  10,000 talents was A LOT of money.  For example it cost roughly 20,000 talents to build the temple in Jerusalem.  It was about equivalent to $12,000,000 or in today’s dollars, about $1,000,000,000.  There is no way he could have ever paid it back, yet the king (the Lord) forgave him because he asked.  Well this same servant went after a fellow servant who owed him just a few dollars.  When the king heard about it he threw him to prison saying, “Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?” The Lord uses this outrageous example to show just how much He forgives us.

We are taught that the Lord forgives everyone their sins “Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34). “For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You” (Psalm 86:5).  BUT there is one condition which can be found illustrated in the story of woman caught in adultery from John chapter 8.  After she was caught in the very act of adultery she was dragged out into the streets where her peers waited to stone her.  Someone asked the Lord where He stood on judging her.  He wouldn’t even listen to them as they accused her.  He silently wrote on the ground then finally said, “He who is without sin, let him throw a stone at her first.”  And one by one they were left until He was alone with the woman.  And he said, “Woman where are those accusers of yours?  Has no one condemned you?”  She said, “No one Lord.”  And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you.” But then added these important words:  “Go and sin no more” In other words, “Don’t do it anymore.”  This is a vital part of receiving forgiveness for ourselves.

Notice the wording of the following from the gospels: “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.  But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses” (Mark 11:25-26).  Notice that wording: “That your Father in heaven may also forgive you…”

The Lord always forgives us, no matter what.  However, the Lord’s forgiveness towards us is really only as real as our forgiveness toward others.  The reason is that when we don’t forgive others our hearts are closed by negative emotions, which get their life from hell.  And the Lord cannot be where hell is.

When it does come to forgiving others we humans tend to get stuck.  When someone hurts us our inner reaction is, “You will pay for this!” So we end up being injured twice: once by the other person and secondly by ourselves.  We do this by harboring feelings of resentment and revenge, which eat us up inside.  We want the other person to suffer as much, and usually even more than we did. It is like eating poison and expecting it to hurt the other person.

I remember as a kid that if my brother or someone would punch me, I would try to punch them back twice, and much harder if possible.  If someone hurts us how often do we set out in our minds plotting our revenge in horrific detail–much worse then what we got.  The problem is that we think holding a grudge is somehow paying that person back, when all it really does is to consume us and to sap our energy.  It has the reverse effect of what we want.  And when we do it we keep the wound fresh, and re-injure ourselves every time we relive and resent.  A friend tells of a radio interview he heard with a woman who was raped and blinded by her perpetrator so that she couldn’t later testify against him.  He said her attitude was simply amazing. The interviewer said: “He did two terrible things to you, but you seem free of resentment.”  She responded,  “He had a half hour of my life, and that is all he gets.”

It is important to remember that forgiveness doesn’t mean that we approve of what happened.  It does mean that we are recognizing that we are not in charge of judging others.  And it means instead putting our energy into productive things like working on our spiritual lives and loving others.

The question to ask ourselves is “What does it take for me to forgive others?  What are my criteria for forgiving someone?”  And if there is someone in your life that you have not forgiven, what is preventing you from doing it?  Because in reality it isn’t them preventing you. Forgiveness comes from within.  If we don’t forgive we will carry it with us always in the form of anger, fear, resentment, pain.  And these will eat away at us. We read,  “Internal people, as the angels of heaven are, do not wish the retaliation of evil for evil, but from heavenly charity they forgive freely; for they know that the Lord protects from the evil all who are in good, and that He protects according to the good with them, and that He would not protect if on account of the evil done to them they should burn with enmity, hatred, and revenge, for these drive away protection.”

We must forgive others, knowing that that is what the Lord would do and what He requires of us.  Yes it is a challenge, and nothing is more satisfying than loving others and being free of the shackles and bonds of resentment, hate, and anger.  It will help us to heal and help others to heal.  The Lord throws down the gauntlet to Peter when Peter asked Him about forgiveness.

“Then Peter came to Him and said,” Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?  Up to seven times?“  Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”

And the Heavenly Doctrines explain that passage this way: “‘Seventy times seven’ means always, without counting.” (Apocalypse Explained 257)

More Thoughts on Forgiveness

There is a story of two monks who lived in their monastery above a small village.  They lived very strictly according to their monastic oaths.  One of their rules was that as a monk they were not to touch a woman.  Every few days these two monks would walk down into the village to collect some things they needed and to give away things made or grown at their monastery to the less fortunate.  It had been raining particularly hard for several days.  The two monks made their trip anyway.  As they got to town they noticed the main street was totally submerged in water.  They carefully crossed it and set about performing their errands.  After they had completed their tasks and were heading home they encountered a frail, older woman standing before the flooded street.  They asked if anything was the matter.  She said, “I am unable to cross this street and get to my home.  The flooding water has made it too dangerous for me.”  The one monk didn’t hesitate, and lifting her in his arms he carried her across the street and gently set her down on the other side.  She warmly  thanked him for his assistance.  The two monks then traveled in silence toward their monastery.   Finally, just before reaching their home, the other monk said to the one who had carried the woman; “I am going to have to report you.  You have broken your vows and have touched a woman.” The monk turned to the accusing monk and said, “I simply carried her across the street.  You have been carrying her ever since.”

I share this story because I think it illustrates an important truth.  When the Lord looks at us what does He see? The Lord looks at our heart and what are we trying to do with our life in this moment?  What are our intentions?  As written in the first book of Samuel, “The Lord does not see as a person sees; for a person looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

It is so easy for us to judge others by outward appearances, when the fact is we have absolutely no idea where people are really coming from.  We can only make our best guess based on outward appearance.  Yet, how often do we offer our own interpretation of their intention rather than finding out the truth by actually talking with the person?

It is also more than easy to judge and condemn ourselves.  We can listen to the negative influences in our mind that want us to hate and berate ourselves.  Again, the facts are, the Lord looks at where we are now. Today is our eternity.  What are we doing now to better our spiritual lives?  The Lord does the same thing for all people.  In other words, the Lord forgives us all people immediately of everything hurtful or downright evil that we have ever done.  And that He forgives the other people around us as well.  So why can’t we try to be forgiving also?

It is a challenge to let go of grudges, prejudices, and resentments we may be carrying, and ask the Lord that He help us to truly forgive the people in our lives that we may have something against (including ourselves).  But if we give this our attention and effort we will notice real changes in our outlook and inner happiness.  As the Lord teaches in the Gospel of Mark: “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.  But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses” (Mark 11:25-26).   When we learn to forgive others that’s when the Lord’s forgiveness for us really begins to take effect.