Instant forgiveness?

A Christian Science perspective.

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We’ve probably all felt that at some point we’ve been wronged. The normal response is a reaction of some kind – sometimes harsh – and we may be filled with anger or resentment. We’ve been told that we should “forgive and forget,” but sometimes that seems terrifically difficult to do.

Why forgive? Forgiveness is a powerful expression of Love. It has a healing and transforming power on the one doing it – when it’s finally done. But what about not ever reacting in the first place? Is it possible to avoid harboring anger or resentment? Something that I’ve been working on – but oh, it’s hard – is to practice instant forgiveness.

For instance, when someone cuts you off in traffic, instantly forgive the driver. When a friend is careless with your feelings, when a family member forgets something important, again, instantly forgive. How much churning and wasteful fretting is avoided? It’s like dropping a lot of heavy burdens – or never picking them up in the first place.

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The mesmerism of ill will and resentment has us at war with others, but Christian Science teaches that warfare is with ourselves only. The founder of the Monitor, Mary Baker Eddy, wrote this about forgiveness: “One’s first lesson is to learn one’s self; having done this, one will naturally, through grace from God, forgive his brother and love his enemies” (“Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896,” p. 129).

I heard a native American definition of forgiveness: to take a person’s fault out of your heart. Isn’t that a great way of looking at forgiveness? Sometimes it takes a lot of effort to do that. But even better would be not to let a person’s fault into your heart in the first place, and that requires instant forgiveness. Don’t go to the place of ruminating or reacting for even one minute. Have I succeeded in doing this? Only a few times. But those moments are like brilliant sunshine breaking through a cloudy day.

Forgiveness doesn’t operate like a light turned on by a motion detector: First there’s motion, and then the light goes on; first someone has to deserve our forgiveness, then we’ll forgive them. True forgiveness, like sunshine, pours out unconditionally. Like sunshine, true forgiveness shines on all without exception.

An inspiring example of this kind of powerful and instant forgiveness is found in the account of an African-American Baptist minister in Oklahoma, the Rev. Wade Watts, state director of the NAACP. After the Ku Klux Klan burned a cross in front of his house and set fire to his church, Mr. Watts challenged the grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan to a debate. During the debate, the Klan member, Johnny Lee Clary, behaved with hatred toward the minister, calling him derogatory names and subjecting him to vicious verbal abuse. Watts consistently responded with humor, forgiveness, and love.

Some time after the debate, the minister passed on. At his funeral, his small church was packed with 600 people, and the eulogy was given by the (now former) grand dragon. Mr. Clary told how the minister’s behavior in that debate had changed his life. He said: “When I hated him, he loved and forgave me right back. When I slandered and abused him, he was compassionate, understanding, forgiving.” As a result, Clary left the Klan. The mental manipulation and distortion of that brand of thinking were overcome by Watts’s instant forgiveness and love.

If you feel that you can’t muster up the kind of love needed to forgive like that, there’s good news – you don’t have to come up with your own love! You can utilize God’s love. Forgiveness is always possible if you are utilizing God’s love. Jesus Christ’s example of forgiveness when he had been crucified is instructive. Rather than saying, “I forgive you,” he said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34, New International Version).

Forgiveness is not about condoning bad behavior. The grace of forgiveness comes when we can see beneath the wrongful behavior to the man or woman God created, starting with ourselves. We are all made in the image of God, divine Love. So we’re all capable of instant forgiveness.

For a Spanish translation of this article, see The Herald of Christian Science.

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