Can we truly forgive those who cause us pain and suffering? Can we find such forgiveness in the love and mercy of our hearts?
There were times I’d see acts of astonishing forgiveness, such as people offering prayers for individuals who had taken the lives of their loved ones. And while humbled by these acts of Christian love and mercy, I could never understand the depths of such forgiveness. Or believe that I could act in such a selfless way.
At one time, I felt blindsided by the actions of people I had trusted for many years. This sense of attack and betrayal affected every area of my life, producing feelings of anger and hatred that seemed impossible to overcome.
As a new student of Christian Science, I realized that the intensity of these feelings was harmful not only to myself, but to family members, who, though sympathetic, grew increasingly concerned by my reaction. Desperate for relief, I turned to Christian Science and to a realization of the powerful ability it gives us in responding to pain and suffering: the power to choose God. In Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, I was learning that, “Truth and Love antidote this mental miasma, and thus invigorate and sustain existence” (p. 274). I was learning that God is Love, and that the love and mercy of God are here for each of us—even for those who treat us unjustly, and whom we may be tempted to believe we can never forgive.
But learning to forgive was by no means an easy process for me. There were many times I returned to the pain I’d felt in the beginning, and to the sense of moral outrage that fueled it. And every time I felt that pull of error rising in my thought, I would turn yet again to the spiritual truth in the Bible and in Mrs. Eddy’s writings, and to the thousands of testimonies given in the Christian Science periodicals.
A deeply affecting example of these testimonies is a “Christian Science Perspective” article found on csmonitor.com titled “Newtown a year later: We choose Love” by Polly Castor (December 13, 2013). This article, describing the “colossal” outpouring of love in the aftermath of the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, powerfully speaks to the presence of divine Love in the midst of fear and hatred.
The writer tells us: “We have faced the worst, but we have not become embittered, cynical, or afraid. We chose to love instead, which is the most powerful response ever possible. We are not only feeling but we’re extending that embrace. We are striving for such an infinite Love that leaves no one out, for if everyone feels and experiences real Love, this won’t happen again.” This healing embrace was felt throughout Connecticut as its churches, just one week after the shooting, joined in tolling their bells once for each of the 26 victims. “But in the center of Newtown, 28 bells were heard that day … to include the perpetrator and his mother in the prayerful remembrance. This was a challenging thing to do, and although it was not a universally popular move at the time, I felt it was our first collective step toward healing. Everyone is a cherished child of God.”
I could see the unjust actions of the individuals who had wronged me as separate from their true nature.
This demonstration of Truth and Love in the darkest of human experiences is proof of God’s presence in each of our lives. Some aspect of human loss often exists in the challenges we face, suggesting that we can be separated from God, good. But Christian Science shows us that despite the appearance of loss and injustice, divine Principle is governing, always present to guide and give us comfort, and that the answer to whether we can truly forgive is “yes” because we are all in reality the innocent children of an all-loving God—not victims at the whim of a supposed creator who bestows His love only on a certain few.
What had been so difficult to understand was becoming clearer to me now. I had been condemning the ones who had given pain and asking how God had allowed it. But through an understanding of Christian Science, I could now see the impersonal nature of the offense, and knew that it was no part of the real individual or of God. In Science and Health, Mrs. Eddy uses the term mortal mind, which she employs to help the reader see through the claim of any mind opposed to God, and how this so-called mind can be denied on the basis of God’s allness. I now knew the need to handle this influence so that its claim to power could be reduced to the error, or “nothing,” it truly was. I could see the unjust actions of the individuals who had wronged me as separate from their true nature as God’s children, and I could also see that the anger and hatred I was feeling were not a part of my identity as a child of God.
I had never before separated wrong behavior from an individual. For me, they were one and the same. But now I understood the truth that we are each children of God, that goodness is the true spiritual nature of us all, and that by accepting this, we can then overcome negative character traits in ourselves and be an encouraging influence for others in doing so as well. It is this understanding that enables us to truly forgive.
I found that when there’s a need to forgive, or be forgiven, we are usually harboring angry feelings and ill will. It is for this reason that I came to understand the vital role that heartfelt repentance plays in forgiveness. There is nothing rote or stilted about Christian Science. It’s a living faith based on the foundation of divine Love, which we choose to honor by turning humbly and directly to God. And by our daily expressions of faith in His mercy and tenderness, we rise above the wave of mortal influence.
Every act of true forgiveness involves turning away from error, and refusing to take part in its lies. It’s a turning away from the anger and hatred that would control and ravage our lives if given the power to do so. This may seem almost impossible at times, but we can know that whatever pain and suffering we might face, God is greater, and the realization of His infinite embrace removes all sense of injury so that we can then embrace those whose need is even greater than our own. Mrs. Eddy counseled in Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896: “If we regard good as more natural than evil, and spiritual understanding—the true knowledge of God—as imparting the only power to heal the sick and the sinner, we shall demonstrate in our lives the power of Truth and Love” (p. 3).
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