AN African proverb says, ``He who forgives ends the quarrel.'' It's a pungent bit of advice that has more depth than might be apparent on the surface. So often when we are angry or hurt over what someone has done, we feel that if only the other person would change, everything would be all right. But the proverb is saying that we don't need to wait for this change. If we take action and forgive, we can end the quarrel by refusing to continue the cycle of anger or hatred. The quarrel can't persist, because forgiveness, by its very nature, excludes the possibility of grudge-holding or revenge-seeking.
For Christians, forgiveness is essential. Christ Jesus emphasized the importance of forgiving others, and he practiced forgiveness himself. There is perhaps no more moving statement of his love than his words on the cross: ``Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.''
In Jesus' teachings, forgiveness is directly connected to our relationship to God. He said that to obtain divine forgiveness for our own mistakes, we must be willing to forgive others for theirs. In saying this, he was emphasizing the point that love for God necessarily includes love for our fellow humans. He was also saying that to be in harmony with ourselves and our Maker, we need to love each other to the very best of our ability.
Truly to forgive, then, is to experience an inner change, to move from a state of anger, fear, or hatred to something approximating the Christly love that is the standard Jesus set for us. This love isn't intellectual or superficial. Nor does it discriminate between friend and foe in its outpouring.
Such love has a spiritual basis. It doesn't rely on outward evidence of change on the part of others but is instead a demand that we make peace within ourselves by refusing to hate another, even if we are tempted to do so. Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, makes this point in a letter she wrote to church members. This letter is published in her Miscellaneous Writings, and it includes this statement, ``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.'' When we are able to love someone who has wronged us, we not only feel better physically; we also regain an inner sense of our actual spiritual nature.
This occurs because hatred is a denial of God and of His love for us and for all mankind. In a sense, it is a willful closing of the door on good. And it tends to darken our ability to see other spiritual qualities, such as joy, goodness, purity, happiness, in ourselves and those around us. To hate, then, is to deny our own innate goodness.
Hatred also denies the possibility of goodness in another. Difficult to believe as it may seem, the individual with whom we are quarreling is also precious to God and loved by Him. And even if we can't actually feel love for this person, we can at least recognize that he or she is loved by God. To do this is not to overlook wrongdoing. It is to perceive that the hatred, vengefulness, and anger we may be experiencing are mortal elements that could not possibly be part of God, Love. And since we are truly spiritual, these aspects of the carnal nature cannot actually be part of us either.
If we see this clearly enough to be able to reject such feelings every time they arise in our hearts, we have turned the corner in our efforts to perceive the other person as loved of God. The final step is to understand that what is most important is our relationship to God and that all good comes to us through Him, not through other people.
This knowledge helps to free us from the feeling that somehow we have to adjust that other person and make him or her do something that will make us feel better. Under God's care, we can receive the peace of mind and heart that we need, no matter what that other person does. And we can trust the working of divine justice to guide us in our relationship with that individual.
As we pray in this way, we begin to see the situation more impartially. We may perceive hidden factors that led to the quarrel in the first place. Perhaps the person was under unusual pressure, for instance. These factors may make it easier for us to feel compassion for our fellow beings. Or we may see a simple way to correct the trouble. If we are feeling genuine, Christly love toward this other person, it will tend to disarm his or her anger and to open the door to restoration.
Each situation is different, of course. But if we are willing to end the quarrel by forgiving, we will find the way opened up through the Christly love that Jesus both lived and died for. And this love will not just save us; it will also help us love our fellowman. Healing through prayer is explored in more detail in a weekly magazine, the Christian Science Sentinel. BIBLE VERSE And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee. ...But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith he to the sick of the palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house. And he arose, and departed to his house.
Matthew 9:2, 6, 7