Unforgiveness and forgiveness
By Jackie Morfesis and John G. Panagiotou
by Jackie Morfesis
As always, God has a way of getting our full and undivided attention. I was driving to the hospital to receive the reading from the doctor on my diagnostic MRI test for a painful and relentless lump in my chest wall. I knew very well that the news given to me could be critical and difficult. As I was praying, I received a message from the Lord, and it was so loud and clear that the tears just streamed down my face.
As I was praying for mercy, He made it very clear to me that inasmuch as He has been merciful and forgiven me, I, too, am commanded to forgive. The message I received in prayer was if God forgives even the most sinful of sins, who am I to not forgive?
There was no denying that truth was revealed to me on the way to the hospital. And something else no less profound was spoken to me: that “though I speak with the tongues of men and angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing … (1 Corinthians 13:1)
These scriptures I had indeed read hundreds of times, but evidently, they had not completely penetrated my heart, only my intellect. Truth must be told. Though I have forgiven and have experienced deliverance from a particular traumatic memory, I still held unforgiveness in my heart.
This was unforgiveness towards those who could not see my beauty for ashes. Who did not acknowledge my gifts. Whose jealousy, envy and greed took a toll on my life. Whose false tongues had spoken against me. Who had borne false witness against me. Who had harmed me at my core as a result of their lies and deceit. And who had abandoned me when I was at my most vulnerable.
And yet, we are not accountable for the sins of others in this broken and fallen world. We are accountable before our God for our sins and our unforgiveness, a weight that as time passes will only serve to attack us again and again. Praise God that He used the moment of my need for mercy to show me once again that we are not only in need of physical healing, but spiritual. And the choice to release our unforgiveness is but one heartbeat and breath away.
by John G. Panagiotou
“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven’” (Matthew 18:21-22). The words of the Lord to Peter even transcended the commonplace wisdom of Judaism that spoke of forgiving people seven times when one was wronged. For the average person, this is a difficult task. Yet we are called by the Lord to do this. The real questions are, what exactly does this mean and how do we do this?
In the Jewish world that Jesus first spoke those words, this would have been an especially hard teaching. It was the world of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” (Matthew 5:38). Yet Jesus is giving this as a new, revolutionary, radical teaching of forgiveness that was meant to reorder the whole structure of interpersonal relationships. Having said this, I would propose that in our understanding, there are three aspects of forgiveness we have need to fulfill.
First, there is the forgiveness of other people. This in many ways is the most obvious. We all have been done wrong by others during our lives. This is just part of the human condition. The reality is that though someone may never acknowledge their sinning against us, or even realize it, let alone want our forgiveness, we must forgive them. This is not an endorsement or an enabling of their sin but rather an unburdening of the boulder we ourselves carry as a result of unforgiveness.
Second, there must be forgiveness of God. Now, this may seem curious to you. Why and how should a person forgive God? Yet I propose that though God is sinless and only acts out of love for us, it doesn’t mean that people don’t wrongly blame Him for allowing bad things to happen to us in our lives. It becomes part of their perception. Just think of the prophets of the Old Testament who would question why and how God could do or allow such a thing to happen. Many times, people are angry at God. They can’t or won’t get past those feelings. It is important to do so. Thus, we need to trust in Him, and part of that is knowing God’s plan is mysterious to us often in the context of this life.
Third, there is the forgiveness of self. Ironically, this may be the most difficult one. We may find it easier to forgive others and even God but be unable or unwilling to forgive ourselves. Yet, this is essential in our spiritual growth and maturation. Many times, we may feel even more burdened by the fact that in a quest for perfectionism, a lack of forgiveness of self impedes us from achieving the joyful living that God intended for humanity. As a result, a lack of forgiveness may be rooted in the sin of pride and in not understanding that it is God’s will that we receive and experience the abundant living He has intended for us.
One thing needs to be emphasized about forgiveness. It does not mean that we are called to be doormats or victims. We may forgive someone for something, but this does not mean that we need to trust them or associate with them again. If only for our own protection and well-being, we must keep this in mind, for to do otherwise may mean that we open ourselves up to their further disrespect, neglect or abuse.
It is only God’s supernatural grace that enables us to truly forgive and be free of the burden of a lack of forgiveness. I would encourage you to pray and ask God to give you the ability to forgive and to continue to trust in Him as your Savior.
Jackie Morfesis is a creative, advocate and author. She holds a BFA in fine arts and an MA in liberal studies and is a former Rotary International Ambassadorial Scholar to Greece. She is a Greek Orthodox Christian with an ecumenical spirit.
John G. Panagiotou is a theologian, scholar, and professor. Dr. Panagiotou is the author of the best-selling book The Path to Oikonomia with Jesus Christ as Our Lighthouse.