We all struggle with it. Forgiveness. Somebody wronged you, and you don’t like it. It wasn’t your fault. You didn’t do anything, or at least you don’t have a memory of doing anything to justify the immensity of the crime committed against you. The shadow of the crime keeps you awake at night. It prevents food from digesting as it should. Your stomach feels like it’s tied in knots. Your eyes are dry and red. Maybe your hair or your eyebrows are falling out. You’re losing weight, or gaining too much of it. Then as if adding insult to your injury, somebody tells you to forgive them.
But you don’t want to forgive. You want to render unto your tormenter the harvest from the seeds of misery they planted in your flesh. Give them back some of what they gave you. Maybe you don’t want to personally harm them, but you’ve imagined your joy at hearing about them falling into great suffering. You might even have wished for them to experience a car accident, leaving them disfigured for life. Or maybe you’d prefer to hear how they fell victim to a random act of violence by another truly evil person because, after all, you’ve already judged them to be evil. They deserve the worst.
You’ve discovered your thoughts about your nemesis are embarrassing. It’s not comfortable talking to anyone except maybe your closest friends, because you’re afraid other people will think there is something wrong with you. A character flaw, which prevents you from doing one simple thing, forgive. You consider having to forgive that evil person the same as making a sacrifice, and you think you’ve sacrificed enough as the victim.
Maybe you’ve gone so far as to pray for God’s judgement to come early. You wait, but day after day, it doesn’t. Ironically, if you continue to cling to those dark feelings, you’ll only destroy your future, finishing whatever damage your nemesis started.
After you share some of the details of your problem with one of your Bible-reading friends, they might offer you one of many Bible verses to help you forgive. For example:
Colossians 3:13 says, “Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do.”
If that verse was sufficient for you, you’re probably not reading this article. So I’ll continue for the rest of us.
Even if you’re a Christian, hearing advice based on the example of Christ might not help you understand why you need to forgive. Without understanding the why, you’re stuck in a paradigm which prevents you from doing the very thing you must do to survive.
Let’s put this all in a different framework by taking a walk through a distant forest.
There’s an earthen trail here that leads to a quiet pond where you can fish if you like, or just sit quietly and maybe read your favorite book. It’s so far out of town, your cell phone can’t even pick up a signal. You’ll be undisturbed for as long as you desire.
In preparation for this hike, you wear a brimmed hat to protect your face from thin branches along the trail. Wisely you wear jeans and a long sleeve shirt to protect your skin from any biting insects. Covering your feet, inside your hiking shoes, are thick cotton socks to help prevent the hike from forming any blisters on your toes. Your backpack not only has a couple of water bottles and granola bars, but also a first aid kit and hunting knife. You’re prepared for a wonderful, relaxing journey.
But you didn’t think of everything.
Just before you get to the pond, a rattlesnake shoots out of the weeds by the trail and strikes your calf, sinking its fangs through your jeans and into your flesh. The pain is immediate, feels like fire.
What do you do?
You could try to understand the snake. Did you startle it? Was it your fault? You don’t want to get bit again, do you? Eventually you’ll come to the conclusion that it was not your fault. You had merely been walking down the path, intending to enjoy the pond, and for whatever reason the snake attacked you. Maybe you should have avoided the snake, but you can’t start where you were. You have to move on from where you are.
Now what do you do?
You could take your knife out of the backpack and pursue the snake. After all, it had wounded you for no justifiable reason. It bit you. The audacity of the vile creature. Certainly you could find it. Snakes are not so fast that even when wounded, you couldn’t run it down. Once you finally caught it, you could drive your knife into its flesh. How does that feel? Maybe you could make the death slow and painful, just to salve the building hate for snakes bubbling up deep from within your soul.
But you wouldn’t do that. That would be stupid.
A human is smart. You know other things are more important than mindless revenge. The time you would invest into hunting down and killing the snake, would be better spent dealing with the poison killing your body.
You’d almost instinctively put some distance between you and the snake, at the very minimum, you’d move beyond striking distance. If it really was a rattlesnake, you know you’ll need anti-venom treatment. That’s something that’s not in your backpack. You know you shouldn’t panic, because everything you’ve read about snake bites have told you to remain calm. So be calm and think. What to do?
Maybe you’d look at the first aid kit. But this is more than a scratch, and you’re not a doctor. The pain tells you there is precious little time to waste and you need someone to help you now.
You could try sitting down and yelling, maybe somebody might hear and come to you. If they don’t, you need to get up and go to where the help is, or you will die. Calmly walk back to your car or at least as far as needed to where you can pick up a signal on your phone and make the call. In order to survive, you get away from the snake and get some help so you can save yourself. In other words:
Forgive the snake.
Life is too short to chase snakes through the brush because when you do, your life becomes even shorter and meaningless. Do the smart things: just walk away; let the snake go; go to the people who are able to help you; let your body heal with time; in the future try to avoid other snakes if possible; and enjoy the rest of your life.
It just makes sense.