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Forgive and forget’ is a well known saying but in so many situations in life both these things seem practically impossible. Trying to extend forgiveness to people who have hurt us, or those close to us, can cause much anguished heart and conscience searching, particularly to those trying to live a life based on religious beliefs.

forgivenessEven to forgive comparatively trivial things can at times require a great deal of effort. We all know that from time to time people say or do hurtful things to us. In the heat of the moment we may decide never to speak to that person again or we may try to get even with or hurt them in turn. We know that in our turn we are quite capable of giving someone a ‘piece of our mind’ or even a torrent of abuse! Society is the sum of individuals who constantly upset or offend others perhaps through ignorance, perhaps through selfishness or pride or perhaps even from political or religious conviction. The consequences of some acts of violence inflicted on individuals, societies and nations extend even ‘to the third and fourth generations.’

Can, or perhaps should, forgiveness be extended unconditionally? Biblical stories dealing with forgiveness such as the parable of the Prodigal Son and the story of Joseph suggest that forgiveness is a two way street. The son had to see the foolishness of his ways and then return to the father and the brothers had to show contrition before being reconciled to Joseph. In both cases the wrong doer had to show evidence of a desire to recognise that wrong had been done, mistakes had been made and that reconciliation was possible. Perhaps only then might true forgiveness be possible. Perhaps there has to be a measure of true repentance which forgiveness recognises. Our ability to offer forgiveness is a Divine quality that is given to us when we strive to follow the pattern set by a God who constantly forgives us all our debts.

Emanuel Swedenborg writes in Arcana Caelestia 9445 - "From this it is evident that no one can draw another away from sins, that is, forgive them, except God alone." When sins or wrong actions are remitted they are not wiped out. The person instead is with held from the evils committed and if that person is truly penitent then new life flows in from the Divine. Forgiveness or the remission of sins does not necessarily mean that the wrong doer should escape the consequences of an action but rather is a recognition that repentance and change can take place.

Neither is the acceptance of forgiveness from others an easy thing. To feel indebted can in itself cause resentment particularly if the act of forgiveness is given with emotional strings attached. To truly receive forgiveness means acknowledging a genuine desire to change.

Do we ever forget things that hurt us? I would suggest not for what is in the memory cannot be wiped out. What is important is that we do not brood on past hurts and bear grudges in a negative way. To do this corrodes and embitters our own soul and prevents us from developing spiritually. It is far better to try to learn from the past and to focus perhaps on helping others and in so doing prevent further distressing situations. For example many people remember the ‘Holocaust’ and resolve to remember lessons concerning religious and racial hatred and prejudice.

To be able to forgive others we have to put things right in our own lives. How can we do this? We need to examine ourselves carefully to see if we have made mistakes or done wrong things. Then in order to grow spiritually, we need to accept responsibility for the wrong choices we have made and then try to show repentance by making amends if possible and resolving to refrain from that course of behaviour in the future. Then the Divine can extend forgiveness to us for the Divine alone knows the motives and reasons within our inner selves and the extent and desire of our wish to change. We, as individuals, can only change our own lives but by our actions we can influence others; by our repentance we show others how to repent; by our ability to forgive we show others the way of forgiveness; by our wish to reconcile we can help others to be reconciled.

Here are some references to what the Bible says on the subject of forgiveness:

Genesis 45:1-15  Joseph reconciled to his brothers

Matthew 7:1-2    Do not judge

Luke 15:1-10       The lost sheep and the lost coin

Luke 15:11-32     The lost son

John 8:1-12        The woman caught in adultery


"To err is human, to forgive Divine"

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