In my talking with men inside prison I've discovered a number of reasons why some of them will not even consider becoming a Christian. One of these reasons is the subject of this talk, that of un-forgiveness. They have great difficulty believing and accepting that God is ready to forgive anything bad that they have done.
Their thoughts are along the lines of this - 'At times I've done bad things to other people, things that, had they been done to me, I would never forgive - therefore I can't imagine anybody forgiving me for the things that I've done, certainly not God'.
I think can understand their difficulty in trying to understand how others could forgive them but they are way off line when it comes to God's forgiveness. God's forgiveness is always readily available, but let’s leave that until a little later in these notes.
The problem with un-forgiveness between two people is its long term effect especially to the one who has been hurt. When somebody bullies us or betrays us, tells lies about us - whatever - it's natural to feel angry and want to get even. When we are able to do so we often do retaliate in kind or in some other perhaps more subtle way. But what about when we can't, when the bully is too big or maybe isn't accessible, maybe even dead. Here the problem remains unresolved and festers in our minds doing no good whatsoever.
When we've been bullied or hurt in some way the chain of thoughts that come into our minds is usually along the following lines - I've been hurt (that's true), it shouldn't have happened (also true), it was most unfair (true), they don't even care about what they've done (true), they deserve to be punished (true), but I'm helpless to do anything about it (which often the case), therefore (and here comes the untruth) - we decide that to punish them we won't forgive them. It's this last one that does the long term damage, it's a decision that is the beginning of a cancerous sore that grows and grows within our hearts. The only cure is forgiveness but this is so hard to do unless help is at hand. For the Christian such help is available from God's Holy Spirit.
But for me to be able to explain this help it's essential that you reader understand the difference between the following two quotes. The first one says ' I won't forgive' and the second one says 'I can't forgive', and there is a world of difference between the two. The first comes from a decision that, as I've mentioned earlier, binds us with a painful sore in our hearts that will not go away. The second one however, the one that says 'I can't forgive' is the beginning of a process within our hearts to remove the pain that is otherwise there 24 hours each day. We may not always be conscious of it but whenever we call to mind the bulling, the abuse, or whatever it was, then the same pain always comes to the surface.
St Mark wrote in his Gospel that Jesus said - When you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive you your sins too ( Mark Ch 11 verse 24, Living Bible) So we can see from this that if we want the peace of mind that comes from God's forgiveness we first need to let go of any grudges we are holding onto and let God deal with the bully in his own way and in his own time. We all reap what we sow in this world and circumstances will eventually catch up with all badness at some time or other.
I mentioned earlier in these notes that we must never confuse the forgiveness of God with that of our own. The Old Testament records a prophecy where God is saying – ‘Despite all you have done, I will be kind to you again: you will cover your mouth in silence and shame when I forgive you all that you have done, says the Lord God’ - that's from (Ezekiel Ch 17 verse 63, Living Bible) Remember here however that although God will forgive us and give us peace of mind we can't expect the world’s judicial system to do the same. They will still demand their pound of flesh and time in prison will still have to be served.
And who are we to complain, we have just the same problem when it comes to forgiving others. The difficulty in this comes from a flaw in our character that we have inherited from Adam and Eve. I feel sure that you will agree that we don't have to teach children how to behave badly; it's something that comes naturally to them and is a visible sign of this flaw that's within each of us. But none of us are bad through and through - read this advice that St Paul gave to the Christians who lived in Galatia at that time. 'I advise you to obey only the Holy Spirit’s instructions. He will tell you where to go and what to do, and then you won’t always be doing the wrong things your evil nature wants you to. For we naturally love to do evil things that are just the opposite from the things that the Holy Spirit tells us to do; and the good things we want to do when the Spirit has his way with us are just the opposite of our natural desires. These two forces within us are constantly fighting each other to win control over us, and our wishes are never free from their pressures.'( Galatians Ch5 verse 17 ,Living Bible) It follows that any good we do, although we may not realize it, is only done with God’s help. Left to ourselves we can so easily become not much better that animals.
It's this asking for help that is the problem, especially for those who have experienced hard and difficult childhoods. Such abusive experiences develop hearts that are hard, hearts that will not ask anybodies help, certainly not from God. They mistakenly look upon asking for help as being a weakness. And yet I don't think they would think the same if it was a child of theirs asking for help. They would look upon such an request as part of a learning process. They need to think the same thing about themselves and soften their hearts and open themselves up to God's unconditional love followed by a request for forgiveness and help from the Holy Spirit.
Remember what I said earlier about the difference between saying 'I won't or I can't forgive'. God's help is there waiting for an invitation to come on board and show us the way. But he won't forgive unless we are genuinely sorry and are humble enough to ask. And we need to remember before we attempt this that God already knows the secret thoughts of our hearts better than we do.
If you Reader would like a fresh start in life then soften your heart now and voice with yourself this closing prayer. Dear Father God I'm sorry for all the bad things I've done and ask your forgiveness. I want to forgive all those who have hurt me in the past but I don't know how. I open my heart to you now and ask that your Holy Spirit comes on board to show me, day by day, how to set myself free from this burden. Amen.
Contents are © Copyright 2006 Ken Mainey
Taken from www.jesuslovesprisoners.co.uk or www.jesusrenewsprisoners.co.uk