Walking in the Light We Share Through Forgiveness

by Rukeia Draw-Hood

 

As God’s Word tells us, God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son as a sacrifice

to amend for our sins so that forgiveness could be offered and reconciliation achieved. As the story

continues, those who accept this reality are to extend this forgiveness and love to one another

and be reconciled (Matthew 6:14; Mark 11:25; Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13). So why is it

that the world recognizes believers more by their hypocrisy than by their love for one another?

 

Alexander Pope is famous for saying, “To err is human; to forgive, divine.” Journalist Elizabeth

Large reports that it is human nature to respond to an offense with anger, grudges, or vengeance.

In spite of religious instruction, many believers respond with all three. Lots of Christians have

lives controlled by anger and bitterness. Many are touchy and easily provoked. Others don’t know

how to let go of grudges. Like the second-grader who is full of rage and yells at his teacher, like the

abused woman who has rehearsed the acts of molestation and retaliation in her mind a million times

over the past twenty years, like the streetwise young man who refuses to let go of payback for the

business venture gone sour with his childhood friend, how is it that many of God’s children never

adequately learned how to cope with the disappointments and injuries experienced at the hands of

others?

 

The church should dedicate more resources to facilitating forgiveness. It starts with the

theologians, the great minds, whose task it is to challenge the church to reflect on issues of great

importance. There are many systematic theology textbooks, and although they are supposed to

cover all the major authoritative teachings of the church, they rarely, if ever, address the topic

of love and forgiveness. This trend continues among distinguished Black theologians (with

the exception of J. Deotis Roberts and Dwight Hopkins). In contemporary Black theology,

freedom and justice overshadow forgiveness and reconciliation. There is, however, ample preaching

on forgiveness in local churches. In spite of this, many believers have not moved beyond knowing

about forgiveness and believing in its goodness. Christian education in the local church has not

typically given congregants the educational experiences they need to practice forgiveness in

their daily lives.

 

Forgiveness helps Christians fulfill God’s commandment to love one another (Matthew

22:39; John 13:34; 1 John 3:23). To love another brother or sister in Christ is to walk in the light

they share (1 John 2:10). Love is the bond that holds Christian communities together, and

forgiveness is an expression of that love. Mother Theresa said, “If we really want to love we must

learn how to forgive.” This agrees with Paul’s writing that love keeps no record of wrongs

(1 Corinthian 13:5). Healthy loving relationships are impossible without forgiveness because, as

Peter Ustinov says, “Love is an act of endless forgiveness.” Jesus tries to communicate this to

Peter when He encourages him to forgive one person a lavish number of times (Matthew 18:22).

 

Forgiveness is a moral response to injustice. It’s a choice to lay down the right to pay an

offender back, absorbing the evil and suffering the pain of an injury instead. Based on the

merciful character of God and the forgiveness He has already extended to the believer for far

greater offenses, such a choice is informed by a conviction that unwillingness to forgive another

Christian is hypocritical (Luke 6:36; Ephesians 4:32). The International Forgiveness Institute

says forgiveness also reaches out to the offender in moral love by seeking the rehabilitation and

betterment of the injurer. An unforgiving believer walks in darkness because every part of his or her

being is negatively affected—mind, body, and spirit. An unforgiving person drinks poison and expects

someone else to die from it. The point is that harboring hostility can be deadly for individuals and those

who come too close to them!

 

Recent studies have found that people who hold grudges have diminished health compared to

those in the general population. They have more visits to the doctor, more stress-related disorders

(anxiety, restlessness, sadness, and depression), lower immune system functioning, and higher

rates of cardiovascular disease (high blood pressure, heart disease, and abnormal heart rate).

Jesus warns that God is like the lender who forgave an enormous debt (Matthew 18:35)

because He expects a believer’s character and treatment of others to reflect His own character

and treatment toward the believer. Forgiven people forgive others, and there are consequences

when they don’t. Believers are an integral part of a loving community, linked by the Spirit of God.

Everyone

will inevitably, if not regularly, be offended in this imperfect community. Love can only prosper

where there is forgiveness. You can begin to walk in the light of love and facilitate forgiveness in your

life or congregation in a myriad of ways: consider keeping gratitude journals, providing training

in communication skills and conflict resolution, participating in role plays and simulations,

completing the weekly REMEMBER YOUR THOUGHTS, MAKE IT HAPPEN, and FOLLOW

THE SPIRIT sections in this book, seeing a professional (minister, therapist, social worker,

life coach) who can accompany you through the process, researching a forgiveness curriculum for

congregational use, hiring a consultant to design an intervention, or formulating a congregational

theology of forgiveness through honest dialogue and Bible study. Whatever method you use, please

address reconciliation, repentance, process, and abuse cycles.

 

Practicing forgiveness allows believers to be healthy and whole, thereby contributing to

the stability, unity, and maturity of the entire Christian community. Remember unforgiveness

has serious consequences. Begin using what resources you have to let go of grudges or help

others do so today!

____________________

Rukeia Draw-Hood, PhD, received an MA in

Christian education from Oral Roberts University

and a PhD in educational studies from Trinity

International University. She is an active member

of the The Church Without Walls in Houston, Texas.