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Forgiveness: central to Christian life

From the April 2014 issue of The Christian Science Journal

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Who hasn’t been in a position to forgive? It may be in a circumstance as everyday as when someone has cut us off in traffic and we’re tempted to react angrily, or when we’ve been nursing a grudge as a result of a perceived personal betrayal, or have felt victimized by an act of violence. Whatever the situation, our willingness to forgive can be a springboard to spiritual growth and healing, and to more spiritual views of life.

The life and teachings of Christ Jesus make clear that forgiveness is central to Christian life. In fact, forgiveness was crucial to Jesus’ healing and saving mission. Yes, he was quick to point out mistakes and hypocrisy, but at no time did he condemn anyone. He condemned sin, but he always forgave the so-called sinner, which led to the individual’s regeneration and healing, as illustrated in the case of a man he healed of the palsy (see Luke 5:24).

Jesus taught forgiveness in every circumstance, making it a part of the one prayer—the Lord’s Prayer—he taught his disciples (“Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,” Matthew 6:12), the spiritual consciousness of which will instantaneously heal the sick, wrote Mary Baker Eddy (see Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 16).

One dictionary definition of forgiveness is “to stop feeling angry or resentful toward someone for an offense, flaw, or mistake.” But this can so often seem difficult to do, if not impossible, especially when we feel the offense is unforgivable. Yet we continually hear about people who are forgiven in such cases. One of the most poignant acts of forgiveness I’ve heard of in recent years involves an Amish community’s willingness to forgive a man who shot ten young girls in a one-room schoolhouse that many of their children attended, killing five, before killing himself. Members of this Amish community went to the man’s burial, expressed their forgiveness to his family, and hugged his widow and other family members. They even donated money to the man’s widow and children (“Amish Forgive School Shooter, Struggle with Grief,” Joseph Shapiro, National Public Radio, October 2, 2007). This is one of many examples the world has seen of forgiveness toward an individual or individuals who seem undeserving of it.

When we are deeply offended or hurt by another’s actions or words, and feel we simply cannot, or should not, forgive, it can be helpful to consider the spirit of Jesus’ counsel to Peter. When Peter asked him, “How oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?” Jesus replied, “I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:21, 22). Jesus wasn’t putting another, more generous, limit on forgiveness here. He was indicating to Peter, Bible scholars agree, that there are no limits to the measure of forgiveness because there are no limits to the measure of God’s grace.

There are no limits to the measure of forgiveness because there are no limits to the measure of God’s grace.

Jesus demonstrated this at the very hour of his betrayal and crucifixion at the hands of his enemies. On the cross he cried, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

He must have been able to forgive, and to expect his followers to do so, because he knew the true nature of God’s creation to be loving and pure, and that hatred and revenge—all sin—is an imposition on humanity, that God’s grace would redeem. This is the divine element that overshadows the human sense of forgiveness, which always has its limits. It is based on the absolute allness of God, good, and the nothingness of evil—on the spiritual understanding that, in reality, no one can have a mind that is separate from God, good.

Jesus knew God as the only Ego, or I AM, and that there is not an element of self-will in divine Mind, or in its reflection, man. Each of us has an opportunity to demonstrate this. When we are praying to forgive, we can know that we are at one with this infinite divine Mind, the only intelligence, and so we are shielded from discordant feelings such as resentment, hurt, and anger that would claim to be our own.

Our at-one-ness with divine Mind means we are conscious of God’s love for us, and for all of His children, and of the harmony and perfection of being, here and now, rather than a mortal past or present that can be unhappy, angry, or resentful. Praying from this basis may not always be easy, but it is well worth the effort. The healing it brings is a peace beyond measure.

Someone recently said that for every angry thought, somewhere in the world a bullet is fired. That is a sobering thought. To me it illustrates the mental nature of the world we inhabit and shows how watchful we must be of our thinking if we are to bring healing and peace, not only to ourselves but to the world, since forgiveness is critical to human progress. It’s difficult to imagine that Jesus could have experienced the resurrection had he not forgiven those who crucified him, or that his forgiveness would not have been to them a wonderful blessing.

It’s difficult to imagine that Jesus could have experienced the resurrection had he not forgiven those who crucified him.

Mary Baker Eddy, who was persecuted as a result of her discovery of Christian Science, also understood the importance of forgiveness to individual salvation. In fact, upon the culmination of a malicious lawsuit against her, which she won, her first response was to write a letter of “overflowing forgiveness” to one of the individuals who had brought the suit against her (see We Knew Mary Baker Eddy, Expanded Edition, Vol. I, p. 363).

Jesus’ followers aspire to forgive as he did, and regularly pray “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” In her textbook, Mary Baker Eddy gives us her spiritual sense of the Lord’s Prayer and of the forgiveness Jesus speaks of in it, basing it on the scientific fact that God is Love and we are His loving reflection. She wrote so simply, yet profoundly: And Love is reflected in love” (Science and Health, p. 17).

Paul Sedan is a Christian Science practitioner who lives in San Francisco, California.

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