Webster’s New World Dictionary and Thesaurus says forgiveness is to pardon an offense or offender; to give up resentment against or the desire to punish. A phrase used in Webster’s Thesaurus to describe forgiveness says it is to “turn the other cheek”. Some people reject this notion of forgiveness because they feel that it allows the wrongdoer to get away with doing evil. But, when Jesus used the term turn the other cheek this is not what he intended (see Matthew chapter 5, verses 38-40).
In his teachings in the gospels, Jesus preached that all men were to be held personally responsible for their actions. At Matthew chapter 18, verse 15, he says, “When your brother trespasses against you, tell him his fault, between you and him alone. And if he hears you, you have gained your brother”. He mentions that people are to be held accountable through discussion, and not by taking an “eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth”. The individual who was hurt should leave the punishment for the wrong up to God.
In cases where a church member does a serious wrong to another member, the church leaders are responsible for taking corrective action if the person who did wrong refuses to make amends for his or her conduct. At Matthew chapter 18, verse 17, Jesus said, “ and if he does not hear the church, let him be unto thee a heathen and a publican”. This provision allows church leaders to remove the recalcitrant member from the fellowship. They can also instruct church members to separate from the unrepentant member until he or she repents. As a church leader in a congregation where we had to disfellowship some members, I can say that this is one of the hardest things for a minister to do. But, it needs to be done if the situation calls for it.
When you turn the other cheek, you are saying, I turn my cheek away from my desire to hurt them, and I will trust God with vengeance. I also turn my cheek away from holding onto bitterness and resentment, and I will not allow the wrong they did to me cripple me for life. With this in mind, forgiveness is designed to be liberating, while it gives people the power to overcome evil with good.
I experienced the blessing of forgiveness when my father and I agreed to forgive each other a few months before he died of cancer in 2002. Once we forgave each other, the years of pain over our relationship disappeared, and we were able to relate to each other like we had never been able to do prior to this.
I am not saying that this is easy. For all of us forgiveness is a struggle. But, we each need to choose for ourselves a pathway that leads us to be successful even though we may have been scarred, abused, abandoned or rejected. This Old Chinese proverb warns us that we hurt ourselves by choosing to hold onto resentment: “He who seeks revenge (vengeance) must dig two graves. One for his enemy and one for himself “.
When people choose to forgive others, God helps them move forward with their lives by healing them of their wounds and scars. He also helps them get rid of their bitterness. Joseph’s life is a testimony of this. After he spent many years in prison and slavery because of the evil his brothers did to him, Joseph was able to forgive his brothers. A critical ingredient in Joseph’s reconciliation with his brothers was God easing his pain by helping him to forget about the terrible ordeal and difficult times he had with them. This is why he named his first born child Mannaseh: “And Joseph called the name of the firstborn Mannaseh: For God, saith he, hath made me forget all my toil, and all my father’s house” (Genesis chapter 41, verse 51).
Richard Wurmbrand, a Romanian minister who was tortured for years and kept in communist prison camps is one of the many examples of people I know of who have chosen forgiveness and became a great blessing to others.
You may be wondering to yourself, how can I help people move forward in their lives that are suffering this way. I believe that you take the tools and talents that you have, and use them to help the people that come across your pathway in life. A few examples of this come to mind.
One situation is the story of a little boy I represented who was placed into foster care when one of his parents sexually abused him and gave him a venereal disease. When I first met this young man, the abuse so devastated him that he would hardly talk to any one. He barely lifted his head when I tried to talk to him.
I noticed a remarkable change in him when I saw him again six months later. His face had a smile on it. He was very friendly, engaging, and charming. The same little boy who would barely make eye contact with me now sat down to talk with me for about an hour. I was amazed to see such a difference in a short time. When I talked to his foster care mother, I found out the secret to this. The love she showed him, and the fact that she prayed with him and for him every day is what made the difference. This remarkable process of healing continued in this child’s life. As he got better, physically and emotionally, the door opened up for him to move in with relatives of his who live on the other side of the country.
The second situation involves a request that my former Pastor made for me to help mediate a dispute that an African tribe was having with their government. When I spoke to a representative of the tribe, he told me that his tribesmen were angry and bitter because their government had forced them to move from their fruitful land in a virtual wasteland. These people wanted the government to hear their grievance and give them back their land. Their story sounded very similar to what Abraham’s son Isaac went through when the Philistines displaced him from his fruitful land (Story at Genesis chapter 26, verses 12-33) . I advised them that the same God who helped Isaac to overcome his tragedy would also help them. They needed to continue to hold onto their hope, and give up their resentment towards the governmental officials who did this terrible act to them.
Things changed as they did this. The governmental officials did not restore the land to them. However, I was able to help the tribe find a funding source that gave them the money to help them get the equipment and supplies they needed to more effectively cultivate the land that they now occupy. These people are moving forward with their lives. The last report I received is that they are doing well.
In the third situation, I was a criminal defense attorney representing a person on an assault charged which resulted from a fight my client had with another person. After the jury rendered its verdict, the Judge did something very unusual. He told us a compelling story about the power of forgiveness. This Judge shared this story because he knew that his role on the bench is greater than giving out sentences or dispensing justice. He is there to impact lives in other ways. My question to you is, are you fully using your talents to help people in this way ? You may not know it, but the fact that you are helping people discuss their differences with each other, is putting some of them on the pathway of forgiveness. Because you are showing people that discussion is a better way to settle problems than rendering evil for evil, your action is causing some of them to give up their resentment and move on into a productive life.
I feel that there is more that you can do, and I want to point out a few of these things:
..... If you train mediators, teach them how to influence those whose disputes they are mediating to consider the pain and interest of others. This often motivates people to forgive each other.
..... Encourage the people involved in your mediation to meet with their spiritual advisors to discuss forgiveness and healing from the hurt that they have suffered from. Being healed is something that is not stressed much at all, but it should be.
..... During the mediation, you can gently ask the parties if they have taken steps to fix the relationship.
As you think about the words I shared, I am sure you will come up with more ways to help the people who are suffering like this find a way to overcome the pain of these offenses, and live a fruitful life.