Religion of Sunday, 8 June 2014
Source: Dr. Daniel Gyebi
Forgiveness is one of the most difficult and painful concepts for Christians and human beings in general to practice. Whoever takes forgiveness lightly has probably not been hurt badly by another person. It takes prayers and the grace of God to forgive. The natural tendency is for us to do unto others all the bad things they have done unto us, and even more. We enjoy vengeance, revenge, retaliation, punishment, retribution and so forth. It gives us a sense of satisfaction to know that we have done something bad to the person who has wronged us or that something bad has happened to the person. We find it very difficult to leave vengeance to God as the Bible has instructed us to do in Deuteronomy 32:35 and Romans 12:19.
Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ emphasized the importance of forgiveness by including it in the Lord’s Prayer. Note that, in the Lord’s Prayer, forgiveness is the only thing that has a condition attached to it; that is, in order to receive forgiveness from God, we must first forgive others who have wronged us. He did not end there. He immediately mentioned the importance of forgiveness after the Lord’s Prayer. (Matthew 6:9-15). Jesus also knows that many of us have photographic or computer memory when it comes to keeping track of the wrongs others have done against us, but not the good deeds they have done for us. To challenge that memory so that we will stop counting, he answered Peter that we should forgive each person seventy-seven times, or some manuscripts say seventy times seven (Matthew 18:21-22). Whatever the correct number is - 77 or 490 - the idea is not for us to seek vengeance as from the 78th or 491st wrong done by one person against us, but to stop counting because love does not keep a record of wrongs (1 Corinthians 13:5).
There are several reasons why we should forgive and not avenge wrongdoing against us. First, our assessment or judgment of the offense may be incorrect. That is, what the person is being accused of may not qualify as an offense or wrongdoing. Second, the accused may not be the one who committed the offense. Third, the accused may not be aware that he or she has done something wrong. In other words, it was not a knowing or intentional act.
Human beings are not perfect. Our knowledge is imperfect. Often, the information upon which we base our judgment is imperfect, with some of it based on hearsay. And so we have imperfect human beings using imperfect knowledge-base to process imperfect information, which leads to imperfect decisions or judgments. That is why if a person accused of a crime is charged to court, a judge may find him or her guilty of the charge, but another judge presented with the same facts and applying the same law in the same courtroom, may find him or her not guilty. If the judgment is appealed, an appeals court may agree with the decision and uphold it while another may disagree and reverse it.
Again, under the same facts and law, the Supreme Court may see the case differently. The opinion or judgment of the majority of the judges or justices of the Supreme Court settles the matter – well, for a while. The judges or justices in the majority agree on the result, which is the judgment of the court, but may disagree on the reasoning. Those among the majority who disagree on the reasoning may write their own concurring opinions. Then, among the minority who form the dissent, some may disagree on the reasoning cited in the dissenting opinion and write their own dissenting opinions. Ghanaians witnessed a case like that in the 2012 Presidential Election Petition. After a while, it is not uncommon for the same Supreme Court to reverse itself.
The fourth reason why we should forgive and not seek revenge, even where we are sure about the person who offended us and the seriousness of the offense, is that the punishment we inflict on the person may be excessive compared to the offense. And, finally, the momentary satisfaction we derive from the vengeance does not compensate for the offense against us or restore us to our original position. For example, assuming someone steals your money and you place a curse on the person and the person dies or suffers harm as a result of your curse, will that bring back your money?
Instead, we should forgive and leave vengeance to God, “for it is written, vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.” (Romans 12:19). Then pray and seek positive outcome from God. For example, instead of cursing the person, bless him or her. Or, as Paul said, “do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21). In the example above, pray that the person uses the money productively such that he or she would earn more than the amount stolen. Then pray that God will siphon some of the money from the thief back to you, even in a larger amount than what was stolen, or that the thief may use the money for the good of society.
However, if you are wondering how God will be able to take back some of the money to you, or positively change your fortunes, or direct it for other noble causes, consider a few Bible verses. Psalm 75:5-6 says that “no one from the east or the west or from the desert can exalt a man. But it is God who judges: He brings one down, he exalts another.” God also said that “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten – the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm….” (Joel 2:25).
God can add, subtract, multiply, divide or perform any number of calculations and permutations in favor of or against a person’s property or status in a way that restores justice and fairness. Those who consider these as impossible and view the Almighty God and Creator of the Universe only through the lens of science, and argue that God’s existence and powers be proven by some scientific experiments conducted by mortals, are missing out tremendously on the numerous blessings that can only come from God. They forget that Christianity has survived the test of time and thrived through faith and belief in God and in His Son, Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. As Christ tells the doubting Thomases of this world, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29).
By that faith, we should believe that God is able. God is able to exalt and repay us for the years the locusts have eaten. The money or property stolen, damaged reputation, persecutions for righteousness, false accusations, unjust employment terminations or delays in promotions, cheatings, family neglects, or even deaths etc. The list of wrongs could be endless and you can add your own. Exercise your faith and be rest assured that if you forgive, God is able to repay you for the years the great or small locusts have eaten, and restore and place you even higher than your previous position. Sometimes, your own enemies may exalt or promote you through their evil deeds. How else could a Jewish boy called Joseph become a high official in Egypt, second only to Pharaoh? Forgive and pray for your enemies; they may help you unknowingly by the grace of God.
Does it mean that those who wrong or do evil to others will go unpunished? Not necessarily. God will use His own standards to judge the wrongdoers and determine the punishment, if any, that should be visited upon them, while at the same time preserving His divine power to forgive.
Given our imperfections explained earlier, our judgment of others may be wrong. God, on the other hand, is perfect, righteous, and just. That is partly why God has reserved vengeance for Himself. We are sinners forgiven and saved by grace, and so we should forgive others and leave vengeance to God. Unforgiven wrongs become weights that slow us down from running the Christian race effectively and block our own forgiveness and blessings. Pause for a moment and reflect on those who have wronged you. Forgive them. As difficult and painful as it is, forgiveness brings healing and relief to the mind and soul of the person who forgives and forgets, even if the body still cries for vengeance.
Prayer is the key. May God grant us the grace to seek Him daily through our prayers.
Dr. Daniel Gyebi, Attorney-at-Law, Texas, U.S.A., and Founder, PrayerHouse Ministry, Kumasi, Ghana.
PrayerHouse Ministry is dedicated to providing a quiet facility for Christians to pray individually by themselves without any intermediary priest, pastor or any other person. This is a free service. No money is demanded or accepted. The facility is located at Kyerekrom / Fumesua, near Building and Road Research Institute Offices, one mile off the Kumasi-Accra Road and next to a house called Grace Castle. If you are interested, please contact Agnes at 027-7423815.