"Who is a God like you, Who pardons iniquity and overlooks transgressions for the remnant of His heritage? He does not maintain His wrath forever, for He desires kindness. He will once again show us mercy, He will suppress our iniquities" Micah 7:18-19
"To err is human to forgive is divine" said Alexander Pope. Thankfully having been created in the Divine image, we can emulate this celestial trait of forgiveness in our own lives.
Forgiveness is a testimony of human freedom. We are not doomed to endlessly react to the harm done to us by causing more harm. We are not slaves to our often understandable desire to make those who harm us suffer. We can rise above this, and forge a future free of the chains of vengeance and resentment. Forgiveness is a foundation of hope.
The two types of forgiveness I wish to explore, are God's forgiveness of our sins, and our forgiveness of the sins of our neighbours.
As Unitarians, we have historically not subscribed to the doctrine of "Original Sin", and the subsequently argued necessity of vicarious atonement, that is central to the theologies of many of our Trinitarian friends. We have instead been happy to accept the view that sincere repentance, a commitment to obeying God's commands and God's merciful grace, are more than sufficient for a person to restore any distance between ourselves and God, caused by our own sins.
Scriptural teachings such as the following, combined with reason, are strong enough supports for our understanding:
"And if My people, upon who My name is proclaimed, humble themselves and pray and seek My presence and repent of their evil ways - I will hear from heaven and forgive their sin." 2 Chronicles 7:13-14
"With charity will you remove your sin, and your iniquity by showing mercy to the poor" Daniel 4:27
"Through kindness and truth, iniquity will be forgiven, if through awe of the Lord one turns from evil" Proverbs 6
"But if you want to enter into life keep the commandments" Matthew 19:17
"And the tax collector standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast saying "God be merciful to me a sinner!" I tell you this man went down to his house justified" Luke 18:13-14
This knowledge fills us with both a deep and enduring love of our Merciful Father, but also gives us much hope. That no matter how deep we might have fallen, no matter how distant we feel we are from God, He is there awaiting our return. Calling to us like a loving parent to turn back into His arms. Who can not be moved by Jesus' description of the joy a father feels when his wayward son returns? We shall always live with the elation, that comes with the knowledge that we can always improve.
"We do pray for mercy, and that same prayer doth teach us all to render the deeds of mercy" so says Shakespeare, and so now we must consider our obligation to forgive our fellow man.
It is my understanding that we have an obligation to forgive those who have harmed us, if they repent and seek our forgiveness. ("if your brother sins against you..if he repents, forgive him". Luke 17:3) In addition we should try and forgive even if no apology has been delivered and no repentance manifested.
What does this forgiveness entail? Clearly just saying the words "I forgive you" while harbouring resentment and dislike in your heart is not forgiveness. And if you find yourself saying "I forgive her but she can forget about me helping her in the future" or "I forgive him but if he ever asks for help, I will help, but I will remind him how he failed to help me" then you have not forgiven. To forgive is to remove all animosity and resentment towards he who harmed you, from your heart. If possible you should extend kindness and love towards the person you are forgiving. Is any of this easy? Very often it is anything but easy.
But during these times when you find it hard to forgive, remind yourself of all the times you have done wrong, all the times that you have failed to live up to your Creator's expectations, and then remember the forgiveness and blessings that God has poured upon you, and appreciate your deeply valued relationships that were maintained by your friends forgiveness of your wrongdoings. This may help you to find the strength to forgive. And if nothing else try and see the value to yourself of forgiveness. The value of removing the weight of resentment from off your shoulders.
Look at the example of others who have excelled in forgiveness. There are many famous examples of forgiveness. Learn of them and find inspiration.
We must all be future orientated, to work towards something better, and not to hold onto the grievances of the past. Life is far too short to waste precious time in reliving the animosities of the past. A determination to be unforgiving is likely to destroy the happiness of your future.
I am sure there are times and circumstances in which people feel that they can't forgive. We must not judge these people negatively, even if the person they refuse to forgive is ourselves. And I am sure that He who "knows the heart of man" will be understanding to a heart torn by pain that is not willing to forgive.
Societies in the ancient world, as well as many in our own time, have destroyed themselves through a refusal to grasp with both hands the legacy of human freedom that is manifested in the power to forgive. They have refused to see the value of mercy, the quality of which "is not strained, it dropeth as the gentle rain of heaven upon the place beneath". Many people and nations have plunged themselves and worse their children and grandchildren, into the same miseries that may have been afflicted upon them because they refuse to forgive and move into a happier future. Sadly in our day, we have seen the appalling spectacle of families torn by conflict, unwilling to forgive, being turned into "entertainment" in talk-shows that seem to revel in human misery.
May we all struggle day by day, to forgive those who wrong us or who we believe have wronged us. And may the Master of the Universe forgive His human creations for the wrongs that we have done.