Is Forgiveness Really Possible?

Anyone who teaches knows how challenging the job of teaching can be. One of the classes I teach is a year-long New Testament class with high school seniors. The fact that these students are trying to prepare and submit college applications around this time of the year, coupled with the fact that they are forced to take the course in order to graduate, makes my job even more challenging. While the school I teach at is a “Christian” school, it is primarily known for its academics, so young people of all faith traditions, or no faith tradition, attend. To be forced to take Bible – who would’ve thunk it?

I tend to think my classes are a little more tolerable because I like to integrate a lot of discussion in my lessons. At the moment, we are going through the Gospel of Matthew, where we came upon the following passage in Matthew 18:21-22:

Then Peter came and said to [Jesus], “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As
many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “No seven times,
but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.”

I was waiting for the response, and like clockwork, it came… “There is no way you can forgive everyone for everything. People sometimes do things that are unforgivable.” “Yes, it may seem that way, but Jesus is telling Peter that in the context of church, forgiveness is an unending proposition; in other words, forbearance and mercy must reign over one’s desire to inflict judgment or to insist someone owes you something just because they wronged you in some way,” I replied. Do I really believe this? Yes. Is it an attainable goal? I believe so. Is it easy and instant? By no means. But, then again, no one ever said life would be a bed of roses either.

Sometimes, I find it helpful to open up to high school students about my own experiences to let them see I am a human being – not in an attempt to be their friend, but to let them know they can be safe in my classroom. So what happens in 311, stays in 311. I shared an experience I had with my mom right before she passed away after a 6-year fight with lung cancer four months ago on July 26th. It is a long story, and some day, I’ll figure out how to share it with you, but bottom line, she released my brother Bill of a debt that he may very well have owed her. He stole from her, he lied to her, he cussed her out, but she wouldn’t let go of life until she heard his voice. He’s incarcerated, so I had to arrange for him to call at a particular time while I was at the hospital with her. On the morning of July 26th, he called my mom’s cell phone, I put the phone up to her ear, and I heard him say things like, “I’m sorry Mom. It’s not your fault. You did the best you could. You did everything you could for me.” Up until this time, her heart was beating so very strong; the nurses didn’t know what she was waiting for, since her body had shut down and she was no longer responsive. Five minutes after I closed the phone, her heartbeat became fainter and fainter, and she immediately passed away.

I determined she was waiting to let her son know that she forgave him for all he had done and all that he put her through during the last 25 years of her life. She hadn’t seen him since before Thanksgiving 2005, and Bill didn’t know how sick she had become. But in my mind, I believe with my heart that she wanted him to know that she held no grudges. She didn’t want him to have a heavy heart. She had more compassion for her son at the end of her life than she was probably capable of before.

But here’s a thought…some might say that a mother’s love transcends a child’s transgressions, so it’s easier to forgive your child. I have a 2 ½ year old, so I can’t say her offenses have amounted to anything worth having to forgive at all (I hope and pray it never happens – but how realistic is that?). But what about those instances in which a hurt was inflicted so deep that you thought you’d never recover? What about those instances in which your husband or boyfriend beat you? What other situations have you encountered where you don’t want to forgive because the sin against you is so egregious? Can we honestly say we can forgive in those instances? Many of my students don’t think it’s possible. Think about it.

2 comments

  1. Simonne says:

    Very thoughtful article! I believe forgiveness is possible even in cases such your boyfriend beating you. However, forgiveness has nothing to do with asking for some more. You can simply forgive him, move further and forget him. I can forgive everything, but if one pushes my limits, I prefer to step aside and never give him a second thought. There’s no help in reviving bad experiences from the past. Some of my friends consider me a stupid dreamer, but once something is done, it will stay like that forever, so why bother anymore? Isn’t it better to focus on present? That’s our only reality.

  2. KWiz says:

    Hi Simonne, thank you for your comment!
    I agree with you; forgiveness doesn’t have anything to do with saying it’s okay that you’ve inflicted pain upon me. Saying it’s okay means it’s okay to do it again. It’s the idea that the person who’s inflicted the pain doesn’t owe me. Generally, we may feel like the person whose behavior was the source of the pain owes me something to make up for the pain I incurred – whether it’s a heartfelt apology, penance, something. Yet, those “debts” are very often never “paid up.” And so while we’re waiting to be “compensated,” the transgressor has moved on, while we’re stewing, feeling badly, angry, bitter, resentful, disappointment, etc., causing damage to our emotional and physical health. So as you said, we must move on. But I think we need to make a conscious decision in our moving on that we will no longer hold what was done to us over the transgressor’s head in an attempt to squeeze something out of someone that doesn’t exist – and that may be compassion and respect. Because to hold it over them in expectation for some recompense, even though we’ve said we’ve moved on, isn’t moving on. So yes, move on, and release that person of whatever we thought they owed us. That’s the only way we will gain peace and growth in our own souls, I believe.

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