it seems that each of us have someone to forgive in life. it may be a significant other, it may be a parent it might be a friend or even a stranger. But the thing that i have been pondering for months now, is when is it justified to not forgive someone?
would it be alright to not forgive someone if they themselves were not sorry about the hurtful comment or actions? well, lets first ask why are these people not sorry (repentant if you will)?
is it because they are malicious and intended to harm you? in this case it makes sense to me that your unforgiveness and eventual hatred of this person was the goal of the interaction. in some sick way, the person who tried to harm you is rewarded by being given so much power over you that you would continue to brew on the topic after the harmful event is long over. [now it is understandable that in extreme situations such as assault or other forms of victimization, there are situations where forgiveness is not as easy as i am suggesting. in these situations the forgiver must have another means of help to allow for the forgiveness of their assailant. - but more on this later] Therefore, if the intention of the incident was to breed continued contempt within your heart, by not forgiving... they still win. they hurt you and are continuing to hurt your future. - more on the state of an unforgiving person later -
Now if the incident that caused you harm was unknown to the one who caused it, then unforgiveness in this situation is also unacceptable. If the assailant has no opportunity to feel remorse about their actions they are being held accountable for things they are unaware of. This is not to say that people should not be held accountable for their actions, but rather that people should be informed of the affects of their actions such that they have the chance to alter future interactions with other human beings. Therefore if you are unwilling (or unable) to tell this person what the affects of their actions were, and you are also unwilling to forgive them for their lack of repentance. here lies a catch 22. they cannot be sorry for something they do not know about. and if the unforgiving is unwilling to share the harm done, the situation will not be given the appropriate illumination for the ignorant assailant to be sorry.
Now for the unforgiving person. it seems to me that when i have been in a place on unforgiveness that the bitterness and harbored agitation that is supposedly focused on this one person over this one issue becomes an increased agitation over all other areas of my life. for instance, say that i'm upset at someone that mugged me and took all my stuff. in being angry with that person, i them become agitated that some person cut into my lane a bit closer to my car than i would have preferred. or that a punk kid cut in line at the movie snack counter. or perhaps that my significant other can't help but leave their wet towel in the middle of the floor which you pick up and then walk around on the wet-spot all day while washing their dirty cloths. (that doesn't sound familiar, does it?) I believe that the state of the unforgiving person is really a state of masochism, of self mutilation of your own soul. only you have the power to let things go, and free yourself from being so bogged down with your own anger and preoccupation about other people's actions. by not forgiving others you impair your ability to forgive even yourself. and in a world where there has only been one perfect creature (Jesus Christ) the thought of not being able to forgive yourself for not being everything you expect from yourself is paralyzing! you are angry at every one else for not living up to your standards of how other human beings should live alongside one another. but deep down you are infuriated with yourself because you fail your own standards every day. you didn't get up early enough, you didn't make it to the gym, you had too many sodas, you didn't have time to make a better dinner, you don't know what's going on in your kid's life, you didn't show kindness to the store clerk.... the list could go on forever!
the funny thing is that while raising our standards to that of Christ by fully submitting and following HIM, we are actually liberating ourselves from our own failed standards. Now i know, why would making our standards higher make us any less of a failure? well, honestly, it doesn't. but God is a Gracious God. His Grace is Sufficient for all who choose to accept it. Accepting Grace is a hard thing for people. especially those of us who expect so much from ourselves and those around us. or maybe there has been so many harbored emotions of doubt and disappointment in others, you have no standard for them... only that they will let you down. and admittedly, someone somewhere will always let you down. that's why the prospect of having someone so dependable and reliable that He will NEVER fail you so unbelievable. but there is someone, but not just a someone, your creator. someone who knows how terrible you think you are, and how terrible you really are, but also how incredible, how compassionate, how loving, how inspired you are to be dependable, reliable, loving, caring, and all of those things that we try to express through working hard to provide for your family, of being involved with community activities. He knows the best and the worst... and you know what.... he still wants to call you HIS, he's proud of you. he longs for you to be free from the burdens of unforgiveness. free to love yourself enough to really love others. but most of all, to not be ashamed to love, and associate with perfection; Christ.