Forgiveness Day – June 26th
By Tom Dardick
There’s so much to be angry about. Anger is in the streets of Baltimore and Ferguson; in Syria, Yemen, Iran, and Iraq. In countless articles, blogs, and comments boxes, anger spews forth in firehose gushes. Our churches seethe as they wrestle with the issue of gay marriage, and gay people are angry at feeling excluded and judged. Anger pervades homes and causes domestic violence and family strife. Ours is an angry world.
We are not supposed to live this way. "’Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.’” - Matthew 18:22. Jesus meant that we are always to forgive. It is easier said than done.
Anger serves a purpose. It gives people a cause and motivates them to action. It’s a great tool for leaders who want to control mobs. It is meant to intimidate and bind people against their will. Anger is perhaps necessary, but it doesn’t have to so define us.
Anger hurts. It doesn’t bear any of the fruit of the spirit: peace, love, gentleness, kindness, forbearance, self-control, joy, goodness, and faithfulness (Galatians 5:22). This is how Jesus lived. This is supposed to be how we live. The question for most people is: How do I/we get there?
One of the biggest ways is to treat forgiveness as an ability, skill, and habit. Alexander Pope said: “To err is human, to forgive divine.” In other words, people will mess up. We live the proper life, the higher or eternal life, when we forgive. It seems a sacrifice at first. We have to let something go. That anger, though pain-laced, feels good in its own way. It feels powerful. We feel righteous. We feel like we’re above somebody else. These are traps.
Oprah Winfrey said: “Forgiveness is giving up the hope that you can change the past.” This is an intriguing bit of wisdom, because it is this illusion that creates resentment. Resentment can fuel ego. But you are more than your ego. The ego is not the source of peace and joy. This is why the rich and famous are not necessarily the happiest. A better path is to cultivate humility, which in a way is the restriction of the ego. The ego thinks it’s the only thing in the world that matters. Mature humans learn and grow beyond this childish notion. Giving up the illusion of power that anything that has happened could have been different is an important step in that direction.
If you find yourself holding on to anger, pray for its release. Look for inspiration to those who exemplify the possibilities. I think of the parents of the Amish schoolchildren who were heinously shot dead in 2007. The first thing they said was that they forgive the perpetrator. That blew me away. It showed me where the bar of forgiveness can truly be.