There is tremendous power in the act of forgiveness. Of course, forgiving is not always an easy thing to do.
In the days of the Revolutionary War, there lived at Ephrata, Pennsylvania, a Baptist pastor by the name of Peter Miller who enjoyed the friendship of General Washington. There also dwelt in that town a man named Michael Wittman, an evil-minded man who did all in his power to abuse and oppose this pastor. One day Wittman was arrested and charged with treason. He was tried and sentenced to death.
The old preacher walked seventy miles to Philadelphia to plead for his enemy’s life. Rev. Miller approached Washington and implored the general to save the life of this traitor. Washington refused the request saying, “No, Peter, I cannot grant you the life of your friend.” Miller responded, “He is not my friend; he is the bitterest enemy I have.”
Washington was flabbergasted. He exclaimed, “What? You’ve walked seventy miles to save the life of an enemy? That puts the matter in a different light. I will grant the pardon.”
Peter Miller and Michael Wittman went back home to Ephrata, no longer enemies but as friends. The reader probably recalls the famous quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln, “The best way to destroy your enemy is to make him your friend.”
There is tremendous power in the act of forgiveness. Recent studies have confirmed that those who learn to forgive experience less anger, depression, anxiety, and stress. They live with greater hope. Isn’t this one of the core principles of the Christian faith? In the Sermon On the Mount as reported by Matthew, Jesus said, “If you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you don’t forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your sins.” (CEB) Pretty strong stuff! God really won’t forgive me if I don’t forgive others? Wow!
So, forgiveness can bring liberation to those we forgive. It can unlock the key to our own forgiveness. But there is more. It can also liberate us from the burdens of resentment, anger, and enmity.
My old classmate Gordon MacDonald relates how this happened in his life years ago. In his book Restoring Your Spiritual Passion he tells about a plane flight he took to an extremely important meeting that could lead to a major change in his ministry. He was desperately seeking God’s direction for his life. Unfortunately, his life was mired at that time in resentment toward a colleague. Gordon wrote:
“For days I had tried everything to rid myself of vindictive thoughts toward that person. But, try as I might, I would even wake in the night, thinking of ways to subtly get back at him. I wanted to embarrass him for what he had done, to damage his credibility before his peers. My resentment was beginning to dominate me, and on that plane trip I came to a realization of how bad things really were. . .
As the plane neared its destination, Gordon cried out to God from the depths of his soul, asking for the power to forgive this colleague and to find the peace and liberation from his “poisoned spirit.” He wrote:
Suddenly it was as if an invisible knife cut a hole in my chest, and I literally felt a thick substance oozing from within. Moments later I felt as if I’d been flushed out. I’d lost negative spiritual weight, the kind I needed to lose: I was free.”
Gordon MacDonald went on to the meeting, renewed with spiritual strength, where his life did in fact take a major change in direction.
Of course, forgiving is not always an easy thing to do. We should remember, however, that it’s easier to act your way into a new way of feeling, than feel your way into a new way of acting. You can make a decision to act in positive ways toward someone you may still have negative feelings about. I can’t always control my feelings; I can control my actions. If I keep acting in a loving way toward a person I still resent, and I keep asking God to transform my heart, in all likelihood my feelings will eventually change.
QUESTION: Have you had any experiences with forgiveness that you are willing to share that might be helpful to the rest of us. Please respond in the Comments section below.