I ONCE thought of forgiveness as a virtue, even a necessary one, but only for special occasions when someone offended me. Now, even though I certainly don't cast about for situations requiring forgiveness, I find that practicing it is needful and right. Forgiving is an important theme in Christ Jesus' New Testament message. ``Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors''1 reads a line from the Lord's Prayer. And how often? Consider Jesus' response to Peter's question ``How oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?'' Jesus answered, ``I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.''2 In my own case, hardly a day passes in which I don't need to forgive myself, usually for something small. Then there is the matter of little (and sometimes not so little!) rubs with family members, work associates, and the like.
Why forgive ourselves? Or others? The soundest reason is the Biblical view of man's true nature as the sinless, upright child of a loving Father -- His spiritual image. We forgive on the basis of what we know to be everyone's true selfhood. We forgive because we know that the man God created -- regardless of how obscure that reality may seem to us at the moment -- expresses the divine nature. God makes man sinless because God Himself is perfect, without flaw.
Since God creates man, He also governs every aspect of his being, and God's government includes love and purity and goodness. Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered and founded Christian Science, says, ``The perfect man -- governed by God, his perfect Principle -- is sinless and eternal.''3
I wish I could say that I am able to forgive instantly every time, but I'm not quite there yet. Even so, this heartfelt conviction -- that man is the sinless offspring of a good and perfect God -- gives me the right basis for forgiving under any circumstance.
I've also found that love is the real motivating force behind forgiveness. Of course, this isn't a narrow, personal kind of love, because that would include some but not others in the circle of forgiveness. No, it must be a larger love than that.
Because God is Love and His love operates as law, it is all-inclusive. Not one individual is ever left out of His love. Because I know this is the way God loves (and remembering the times I've felt graciously included in this love when humanly perhaps I didn't deserve it), I want to reflect divine Love deeply in the way I respond to others.
By forgiving and by recognizing for ourselves the innocence of man, we take the spiritual initiative. When we refuse to react negatively, we take a small step in the proof of man's sinlessness. This isn't a naive ignoring of someone else's faults but a compassionate, realistic, Christian response.
In forgiving ourselves we begin to see a bit more clearly our spirituality and our own innate freedom from sin. And when our forgiveness is on the sound basis of spiritual truth (and not simply a matter of ``letting ourselves off the hook''), we are taking another step in our own reformation. We will be less likely in the future to need forgiveness, because we won't be thinking or speaking or acting as we used to.
Forgiving in this way is a vital activity. It's too good for us not to practice it everyday.
1Matthew 6:12. 2Matthew 18:21, 22. 3Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,p. 304.
You can find more articles like this one in the Christian Science Sentinel, a weekly magazine. DAILY BIBLE VERSE: Be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing. I Peter 3:8,9