QUARRELS, disputes, misunderstandings--all of these present us with opportunities to forgive. Even on the national scene, an ability to forgive enables politicians to work together and to establish peace with other countries. When the ability to forgive is lost, senseless wars such as the one in the Balkans tend to result.
The Biblical roots of forgiveness are perhaps deepest in the life of Christ Jesus, who forgave even those who crucified him. Matthew's Gospel reports that, earlier in Jesus' career, Peter--one of his followers--asked: ``Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?'' Peter may have thought he was being particularly generous in offering to make that much of an effort. But even seven times wasn't sufficient to meet the standard Christ Jesus was setting. The Bible tells us, ``Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven'' (18:21, 22).
That might seem like a lot of forgiveness! Yet if we under-stand our relationship to God in the way that Jesus taught it, we can begin to see the effect of this approach. Certainly Jesus had more than his share of detractors and enemies. But the Master did not counterattack or seek revenge; he prayed. He knew man to be spiritual and inseparable from God, and he let this fact guide his thoughts and action.
What does this have to do with forgiveness? A great deal, ac-tually. When we understand that we have an unbreakable relationship to God, who is the giver of all good, we also know that nothing can ever separate us from His infinite love. This perfect unity is the foundation of all success in life. To indulge the hatred, resentment, and so forth that flourish when we fail to forgive is to deny our spiritual nature and to reject the love of God. Closing the door on God's love for any of us--including the ones who have wronged us--is like turning out the light and sitting in a dark room and then feeling angry because of the darkness! Through prayer, however, we are able to overcome the feelings that make us reluctant to forgive, as well as any desire for revenge.
The importance of forgiveness is brought out very clearly in Mary Baker Eddy's Miscellaneous Writings. Here the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science writes: ``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. To avenge an imaginary or an actual wrong, is suicidal'' (p. 129). As we learn to know ourselves as spiritual and able to love our fellow humans, forgiveness comes more readily. Self-righteousness and anger--two obstacles to the Christly approach--begin to lose their power to keep us going over and over the wrong that has been done. Instead of mulling over the evil, we eliminate it by recognizing our spiritual unity with God, infinite Love.
Then, we need to take the next step and exhibit love toward all our fellow beings. Often it is helpful to look for spiritual qualities in these individuals and to affirm this aspect of their nature. I remember once disliking someone so much that I couldn't see anything good in him. Then someone told me--without knowing my feelings--how kind this man was to his children. I took that seemingly small thought and on it built a new view of him, one that enabled us to work together happily.
Forgiving isn't always easy to do, but the example Christ Jesus has set for us should open our hearts and thoughts. Divine Love will guide us to peace in our hearts and forgiveness of those we feel have wronged us.