What is Forgiveness?
Forgiveness can be defined as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance or anger toward a person or a group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness. It does not mean forgetting, or condoning or excusing offenses.
Why is Forgiveness important?
Learning to forgive and believing that we can be forgiven is very important for our happiness, spiritual, emotional and mental wellbeing and growth and personal development. Without the ability to forgive, we often find ourselves ‘stuck’ in the past and can be very destructive in our present and future relationship with others.
How can Forgiveness help us?
When we are able to forgive someone for hurting or betraying us, we let go of the anger and resentment that we would otherwise feel toward that person or group of people.. Anger and resentment- when we let go of it- can ‘set us free’ from becoming slaves to emotions and thoughts which often only lead to destructiveness and hurt- not just for others but also to ourselves.
To forgive someone does not mean simply letting them back into your lives- because once trust is broken it often takes a long time to trust the same person again and it is understandable that one may be cautious of exposing themselves to repetitive behaviour. Forgiving is more about letting go of any resentment and bad wishes upon that person- wishing them well, and not wanting them to get ‘punished’ or to ‘suffer’ for the consequences of their action.
When we learn how to forgive others, we find that we are much more likely to move on from traumatic experiences that may have been inflicted upon us by others in our past. It is a great medicine for those suffering with post-traumatic stress-disorder. However sometimes moving on from these experiences also involves us having to forgive ourselves too- and this can be very difficult if we are the ones that have made a mistake and believe it to ‘unforgivable.’ Feelings of guilt, anger to ourselves, feelings of reduced self-esteem can take over our emotions, occupy our minds and eat away at us day in day out- and hold us back from embracing the present and being creative in the future. These negative emotions are very destructive to our mental, emotional, spiritual and physical well-being. That is why it is very liberating for us to know how to forgive others- because the more we forgive others for their faults, the more likely we are able to feel ‘worthy’ of forgiveness for our own faults.
How many times should we forgive?
When one has faith in a Loving, Compassionate, Forgiving God or Creator, one is more likely to be able to move on from past hurt and pain caused by another person or group of individuals. That is because All the Scriptures including the Torah, Bible, Gospel and Quran- teach that God forgives those who repent and mend their ways- however bad the deed- as long as we truly repent and mend our ways- ie. stop doing the bad deed and correct our behaviour- we can be forgiven. This can be very refreshing for believers- however it can also keep us back from taking more responsibility in our lives- if we feel that we are able to get away with more? What happens if someone keeps making the same mistake over and over again while knowing and believing that it is wrong - and just keeps repenting each time thinking he will be forgiven? According to Scripture- God wants us to take responsibility- and intention is very important. Someone is more forgivable if they sin out of ignorance, but when we knowingly sin while knowing it is wrong- this leads to punishment. This way we understand that the nature of God’s love and Forgiveness must also encompass His need to be All-Just. That is why the concept of penance- where we feel we must do acts of good to ‘cleanse’ our acts of sin to recompense the sin that was does knowingly- to help us to purify ourselves. Those who believe that God made man in the image of Himself- can then understand why us humans find it so difficult to forgive others when they say ‘sorry’ but don’t actually take responsibility for their actions, and keep repeating the harmful speech or action over and over again. How many times should we ‘forgive?’- at what point do we need to ‘punish’ someone for their harmful behaviour in order to protect others from the behaviour?
This is where ‘giving it to God’ can really help. Letting Him be the ultimate Judge and the One who decides punishment for those that may have either not repented and mended their ways or escaped worldly punishment. Knowing that He knows our innermost thoughts and intentions and reasons behind why someone might be repeatedly harming others using their speech or actions- and that He is the Most-Forgiving and Most Mercy. Forgiveness and Mercy are slightly different. Forgiveness is easy to do when someone sins out of ignorance but takes responsibility when they realise it was a mistake- Mercy is about letting go of punishment even though the individual or group of people do deserve the punishment. Therefore in order for us to be able to reach the next level of forgiveness- we must be able to be merciful. ( see section on Mercy)
How can we become more forgiving?
The first step of becoming more forgiving is humility- accepting that we are all human and that we all make mistakes. We are not gods. We are not all self-sufficient. We do not have ultimate control. We do not know each other’s thoughts and emotions and intentions behind their actions, just as others do not know ours.
Only God Knows all of these things, and He knows us better than we know ourselves- so why not let Him be the Ultimate Judge? All we can do is judge an action- not the intention behind it, or the other reasons that might have contributed to the action.
In order to be ok with us making mistakes- let us remember that often those who are most wise- are ones that have made mistakes themselves and learnt from them, or learn from the mistakes of others. It is ok to make mistakes out of ignorance- as long as we reflect and learn and mend our ways- this way we turn negative into positive and can use our knowledge and wisdom from our mistakes and negative events that have happened in the past to help others in the present and the future.
The next step is to try not to be judgemental. Before we blame and accuse and get angry with others for their faults and misdeeds- let us look at ourselves- are we as stern against ourselves as we are towards them? Have we ourselves never made mistakes or hurt others out of ignorance? -It is easy to judge others when they make a mistake or act in a way which we believe or have come to understand or define as ‘wrong.’ However let us remember how we came to understand what is right and what is wrong. Often it is through our own experiences- but we have made mistakes too- and where we are ourselves in our spiritual development may not be the same place as somebody else. Each is on their own path. We all make mistakes. How many times have we said or done something while thinking it was to help someone or a group of people- only to find that we are being falsely accused as trying to harm them? If this can happen to us- it can happen to others too.
Treating each other how we ourselves want to be treated- and reminding ourselves of this whenever somebody or a group of individuals hurts or upsets us- can really help us to be more forgiving. When we make a mistake- do we ourselves not want to be forgiven? DO we ourselves want anger against us and vengeance and punishment for our faults? If we want Mercy to be shown us, and if we ourselves want to be forgiven- then we must forgive others and have mercy upon them too.
Belief that the more we forgive others- the more we will be forgiven. Convincing ourselves of this can be very helpful. For those who do not believe in God, let us see it like this- how likely are you to be able to forgive yourself for doing something that might have caused harm to someone else, if you are not able to forgive someone else for doing the same thing? Would you be more likely to be able to let it go and forgive yourself from making mistakes if you felt more able to forgive others? If the answer is yes, then let us learn to be more forgiving- so that we too can move on more easily from the mistakes and faults that we have made in our past- learn from them, mend our ways and use our knowledge and wisdom from them to make a positive difference to both ours and others’ lives in the present and the future.
How can we be forgiven?
For those of us who believe in a Forgiving and Merciful God, who follow guidance and knowledge from Scripture- what we learn is that when we make a mistake out of ignorance- God is Most Forgiving and Merciful- if we repent- He will forgive anything- as long as we are truly repentant and sorry and actively reflect on our mistakes and try not to repeat it again.
Sometimes however, we find ourselves feeling sorry but repeat an action or deed which we believe to be sinful, over and over again- this can sometimes make us feel ashamed to even turn to God for forgiveness- and hopeless that we will ever be forgiven.
Scripture tells us that God is Most- Forgiving and Oft-Forgiving and Most Compassionate and Merciful. He knows us better than we know ourselves. If we feel able to connect to Him directly despite our ongoing repetitive behaviour that we believe to be sinful- He will keep forgiving us, as long as we are still actively turning to Him and seeking help from Him to help us mend our ways. It might be that each time, we are a little stronger to keep from the repetitive behaviour, and less likely to repeat over and over. However, it is very natural to feel sometimes that we don’t ‘deserve’ His Forgiveness- this comes with knowing that the sin was intentional and not simply carried out of ignorance, and therefore makes it less likely that we will stop the behaviour, and our actions speak out as witness to our true intentions and show that we cannot be truly repentant if we continue our harmful behaviour.
Often we need to prove to ourselves that we are worthy of forgiveness while we seek His forgiveness. Scripture teaches us that good deeds cancel out bad deeds- and so one way to help us to take more responsibility for our actions and speech, is to actively engage in acts of charity and kindness and self-sacrifice. Prayer for others as well as ourselves, fasting and charitable deeds are all encouraged in scripture to help us purify ourselves so that we may be forgiven and feel worthy of forgiveness- to make up for our behaviour which cause harm to ourselves and others. The more good we do, the more we convince ourselves and become ‘worthy’ of His Forgiveness- even though He is always prepared to forgive us if we turn to Him directly for Help with sincere and honest hearts.
So in order to be truly forgiven we must attempt to mend our ways: It is not enough just to say ‘sorry’ as actions speak louder than words and reveal our true intentions and weaknesses.
In order to help us achieve this and be able to sustain and maintain it- Scripture encourages us to:
Be humble hearted- don’t be too proud to ask for forgiveness.
Be truly repentant and never give up returning to Him repentant
Engage in acts of charity and kindness
Acts of self -sacrifice
Always remember that God is oft-Forgiving and Most Merciful
Actively try to mend our ways
Never give up hope in His Forgiveness
Have an intention to better ourselves
Seek Help in patience and prayer
For those of us with children, or who love someone with all their heart mind and soul- how willing are we to forgive them even if they fall a few times and make the same mistake over and over? Well- let’s think of How God will be then, if we as humans are able to forgive- how much more will He be willing to forgive us as He is the Most Forgiving and Most Merciful?
For those who do not believe in a Forgiving God, feeling worthy of forgiveness whereby we can forgive ourselves and let go of our past behaviour and stop punishing ourselves for it, again is more possible if we convince through our good speech and actions that we are ‘worthy’ of it. So again the principle is the same- the more we do to help others, the more likely we will be able to ‘forgive ourselves’ and be ‘forgiven.’
Scripture quotes on Forgiveness
‘Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits; Who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion…’ Psalm 103 2-4
'Surely God loves those who turn much (to Him), and He loves those who purify themselves.' Quran 2:222
..’He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His Love for those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him…’ Psalm 103; 10-13
‘..and Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.' Luke23:3
‘and whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also Who is in Heaven may forgive you your trespasses.’ Mark 11:25
'The Penalty on the Day of Judgment will be doubled to him (disbeliever), and he will dwell therein in ignominy,- unless he repents, believes, and works righteous deeds, for God will change the evil of such persons into good, and God is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. And whoever repents and does good has truly turned to God with an (acceptable) conversion.'
“..and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Mathew 6:12
‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His Will in all that you do, and He will show you which path to take.’ Proverbs 3:5-6
Say, "O My servants who have transgressed against themselves [by sinning], do not despair of the mercy of God. Indeed, God forgives all sins. Indeed, it is He who is the Forgiving, the Merciful."' Quran 39:53
'Believers, do not hunt when you are in the holy precinct. Whichever of you purposely kills game in the holy precinct has to offer, as an expiation, a sacrifice in the holy precinct which two just people among you would consider equal to the prey or food to a destitute person or has to fast (for an appointed time) to bear the burden of the penalty for his deed. God forgives whatever was done in the past, but He will take revenge on whoever returns to transgression, for He is Majestic and Capable of taking revenge.' Quran 5:95
‘O My Devotees, who have committed excesses against their own selves, do not despair of the mercy of God. Surely, God forgives all sins. Indeed He is the most Forgiving, the Merciful.’ Quran 39:53.
'Let them pardon and overlook. Would you not love for God to forgive you? God is Forgiving and Merciful.' Quran 24:22
'Show forgiveness, enjoin what is good, and turn away from the ignorant.' Quran 7:199
‘Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends.’ Proverbs 17:9
'Verily, the Hour is coming, so forgive them with gracious forgiveness.' Quran 15:85
'The believers are those who spend in charity during ease and hardship and who restrain their anger and pardon the people, for God loves the doers of good.' Quran 3:134
‘Hatred stirs old quarrels, but love overlooks insults.’ Proverbs 10:12
'The angels glorify and praise their Lord and seek forgiveness for those on the earth. Verily, God is the Forgiving, the Merciful.' Quran 42:5
'Whoever is patient and forgives, verily, that is among the matters of steadfast determination.' Quran 42:43
'Say to those who believe that they should forgive those who expect not the days of Allah, as it is for Him to recompense people for what they have earned.' Quran 45:14
'And O ye Believers! turn ye all together towards God, that ye may attain Bliss.' Quran 24:31
'O ye who believe! Turn to God with sincere repentance, in the hope that your Lord will remove from you your ills and admit you to Gardens beneath which Rivers flow ... ' Quran 66:8
‘’..For I will forgive their wickedness and I will remember their sins no more..’ Hebrews 8:12
'God accept the repentance of those who do evil in ignorance and repent soon afterwards; to them will God turn in mercy: For God is full of knowledge and wisdom. Of no effect is the repentance of those who continue to do evil, until death faces one of them, and he says, "Now have I repented indeed;" nor of those who die rejecting Faith: for them have We prepared a punishment most grievous.' Quran 4:17-18