By Greg Aitkens
A wife runs off with another man, which leads the marriage straight into divorce. A husband runs off with his high school sweetheart, after 45 years of marriage, which leads to an ultimate divorce. After harsh words are spoken at a funeral for their father, two sisters have not spoken in 20 years. A dutiful daughter cares for her very grumpy father, and is criticized all the time. He dies, and the daughter has to muster a lot of energy to attend her own father’s funeral. A businessman is promised substantial compensation for agreed upon work, and never sees any of the money. (Unfortunately, this businessman was me!)
We have all heard many stories like the ones above. People acted badly and said mean things, or were extremely selfish. These bad behaviors and harsh words caused problems and profound hurt. People were damaged and wounded. Many of us became angry, resentful, or bitter. We might even say these ugly episodes were just unforgivable.
What is “unforgivable”? It might mean: indefensible, inexcusable or not justified. We could say these words and behaviors were unpardonable, unwarranted, and completely unnecessary. Clearly, the actions described above were devastating in every circumstance. However, were they truly “unforgivable”?
I’d like to suggest that no act, no matter how terrible is “unforgivable”. Some people will choose not to forgive, and we can respect their choice. However, scholars, psychologists, and the clergy all agree— there is nothing which is Unforgivable.
The following stories are good examples of other’s “forgiving anyway” in some unimaginably difficult circumstances.
- Jesus on the Cross at Calvary forgives the very people who were beating Him and scourging Him. He is forgiving the people who are about to kill Him! In Matthew 5:44, Jesus says: “My command to you is: love your enemies, pray for your persecutors.”
- Nelson Mandela of South Africa forgives the white “accusers” who falsely imprisoned him for 27 years— for standing up for the rights of his fellow workers. He forgave the entire white Apartheid Regime, who were in power at that time. He won the Noble Prize for Peace in 1993. He said, “ Forgiveness liberates the soul and removes fear. That’s why it’s such a powerful weapon!”
- Corrie Ten Boom in Holland in WWII. She and her family were hiding Jews from the Nazi’s. She is reported to have saved over 800 Jewish lives. She is eventually caught and sent to a concentration camp, and witnessed the murders of many Jews. Her own father dies soon after arriving at the camp. She forgives all the soldiers involved in all the murders, and becomes a missionary preaching God’s forgiveness and need for reconciliation, after the war. She said, “Forgiveness is the key that unlocks the door of resentment and the handcuffs of hatred. It is a power that breaks the chains of bitterness and the shackles of selfishness.”
- Ron and Anita Heyn, who live in Phoenix, Arizona. Their college age daughter is thrown off a bridge and left for dead. She sustains many injuries which affect her to this day. Ron and his wife come to forgive the person who attacked their daughter. Then, they offer a Healing Ministry to many people in need. Ron documents all that happened in a book called A Better Way.
- Amish Grace is a book which describes the horrific murder of 10 little girls in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, in 2006. The Amish community quickly forgives the very disturbed shooter, who also kills himself in the melee. It’s an amazing story which showed what Christ-like forgiveness is all about… a story of the love of God in the face of tragedy.
For Your Consideration: As compared to the horrific events described in the stories above, I’ve realized that my own struggles in forgiving are pretty “lightweight.” I’ve had none of these kinds of situations to deal with in my own life. I used to think that certain ugly actions against me were “unforgivable”. I no longer think that. Perhaps we all need to rethink what is unforgivable. I do know it’s good for us to forgive, no matter what has happened.