Like most people, throughout my life I have experienced very many offenses against me, ranging from the great to the small, whether it was the stewardess who cut in front of me in the airport security line or getting singled out for unkind treatment by someone I regarded as a friend.
These offenses mean that I have been called to forgive many times. Unfortunately, I have had a lot of trouble with forgiveness over the years. Of course, I always knew that it was a great thing and necessary for obeying God; it just seemed very hard to forgive. Recently, thinking about this problem, I wondered: why would God put such a difficult task on us at all?
God And Forgiveness
To think about why forgiveness is important for us, let us think back to when forgiveness originated. That was when God forgave the first sin of Adam and Eve. Now, in that circumstance, God had just given them a paradise, with everything they could possibly desire. They were in a state of great happiness. There was only one thing forbidden them, and that because He knew they could and would be totally happy without it.
And what happened? God’s most precious creations, the ones He made in His own image and gave absolutely everything, disobeyed Him. However, instead of giving them the punishment they truly deserved, God forgave them, thus introducing the world to an entirely new concept: mercy.
While forgiveness is great, without offenses there would be no need for it. But, God knew from before time began that sin could exist, and He knew how He would respond to it. He also created us to be His adopted sons and daughters, which meant that we had to follow the example of our Father’s behavior.
Thus, by forgiving Adam, and in addition to giving the human race another chance at holiness, He tasked us with being merciful in the face of the new evil. Since sin made every virtue more difficult, this meant we had to become even more like Him in the strength of our love. Now, sin works in the same way that it did with Adam—though it still causes pain, those of us who have been wounded by it can still use it to become more like God.
Forgiveness Leads to Peace
Additionally, forgiveness is the only way to true peace. If we don’t forgive, the remembered grievance could remain before us for much longer than it should, causing us continual pain, not to mention a greater separation from the Trinity.
There is another reason why God intended forgiveness for us—He knew that, once sin was introduced, forgiveness of it would then make man happiest. That is because, as most reading this probably already know, forgiveness does not affect the offender, but the one who forgives.
Once the offense is forgiven, the offended need not have any more pain from it. Forgiveness is the first step to rising above an offense, and a conscious desire to heal from it. Furthermore, for Catholics, if we allow God to be a part of it, as indeed He should be a part of all of our lives, we can make an offering of our forgiveness to Him.
The downside is, no matter how much good may come out of it, forgiveness is still hard — as I well know. Yet, if we withhold forgiveness, it creates more and more evil. The humility, mercy, and holiness that God can bring about in us when we forgive are the polar opposite virtues of what the devil intends when he lures someone to wrong us.
The Greatest Forgiveness Was… Ours
However, the idea of forgiveness may be easier to accept if we think of the greatest act of forgiveness. It started with the Incarnation, when God became Man for our sake. That was the greatest act of forgiving love and sacrifice the world had yet known, as the Lord of the universe took the very nature of His creatures out of love for them.
As if that were not enough, He made the final sacrifice, of His own life, that the forgiveness He gave us would be complete. Though Jesus did not have the same human struggle with forgiveness that we do, His human will was disinclined to suffering, just as ours are. Yet, He not only endured the suffering, but gave us the greatest example of how a human should behave when confronting something painful, specifically, “Thy will be done.”
Finally, it can also help our forgiveness to remember that God has not ceased to forgive us. The Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection were His great redeeming acts for our race, but beyond that, He gave us the Sacrament of Confession. He knew that even the holiest of souls, even if they worked hard to choose Him in their lives, would not cease offending Him entirely in this life.
He instituted Confession for us so that we might never have to remain away from Him for the sake of our sins. He offers forgiveness, in matters great or small, like the earth offers oxygen, intending for us not only to receive it for ourselves, but also to receive the grace to extend it as He does.
All this being said, if anyone reading this is currently struggling with forgiveness, as a fellow sinner struggling along this path, I would suggest first offering the offense up to God. Furthermore, remember the healing that forgiving grievances could bring to you, and do your best to seek it.
Thank God for giving us forgiveness as one more way to counter the darkness of this world.