Contrary to popular opinion, forgiveness is innate and unforgiveness is learned from our environment, says T.D. Jakes, pastor of the 30,000-member The Potter's House in Dallas and New York Times bestselling author.
"We develop our propensity to forgive or not to forgive by what we see illustrated at the early ages of our development. We don't come here unforgiving. Children are not unforgiving. You can punish them and they will hug you in a few minutes," said Jakes to The Christian Post in an interview. "They can have an altercation with another child and want to go outside and play by lunch time.
"We don't come here pre-wired to bear this kind of acrimonious type of lifestyle. We don't come here like that. We come here with a certain propensity to be open, loving, accepting, and trusting. We learn to be unforgiving, doubtful, suspicious, guilt-ridden, and anxious."
Jakes, whose latest book titled Let It Go: Forgive So You Can Be Forgiven goes on sale March 27, says that since people learn how to be unforgiving, they can also unlearn the behavior. They can start by applying the biblical principle of "resisting the enemy and he will flee from you" to unforgiveness. When people feel the urge to go against someone, then they should try to go the opposite direction of the emotion.
"You don't want to be controlled by those feelings, and you make those feelings submit," said the popular charismatic leader. "See, we are commanded to forgive [but] we are not commanded to trust. We wouldn't be commanded to do something we can't do."
Especially for Christians, who pray the Lord's Prayer ("forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors"), the act of forgiveness is of utmost importance because it is connected to God's forgiveness of people's sins.
But Jakes is quick to explain in his book that that line in the Lord's Prayer is not so much about God punishing us and "dishing" out the same measure of forgiveness as we have shown to others, as it is about people's capacity to receive God's grace.
"We cannot embrace God's forgiveness if we are so busy clinging to past wounds and nursing old grudges," Jakes writes in Let It Go. "Forgiveness doesn't exonerate the one who hurt you nor does it trivialize the depth of your trauma. … What it does do is liberate you and your soul from living in the Amityville Horror house of memories and agonies that aren't worthy of more time in your life.
"Forgiveness, then, is a gift you must find a way to give yourself regardless of who or what has dropped you into this grievous state of affairs."
Many people under the clutches of unforgiveness will "retreat to the land of 'I don't care,'" and be reclusive and avoid socializing and trusting others. Jakes warns that this behavior will damage the soul because "you were born to love and born to give…," and can affect people's success at work, their relationships with family and friends, and their health.
While not trivializing the difficulty of forgiving to a "flip [of] a switch and have the world bloom in animated Technicolor," Jakes states that forgiveness is a choice.
The book lists several reasons why people won't forgive:
• Unforgiveness comes when we believe that our future has been taken from us or irreparably damaged.
• Unforgiveness comes when we believe the betrayal has not been sufficiently atoned.
• Unforgiveness comes as a defense mode to protect the bruised inner self, which often is hidden from view or even our own awareness.
• Unforgiveness comes when we feel that we have been deceived in some way and publicly humiliated.
• Unforgiveness comes when personal trust has been violated.
• Unforgiveness comes from opportunities lost.
• Unforgiveness comes when we have been forced to suffer the soul wounds of abuse, neglect, and rejection in silence.
"I think it is important that we rebuild an atmosphere of forgiveness and civility in every aspect of our lives," Jakes told CP. "We are created by a creator to be creative, and the energy that makes us creative is often absorbed in maintenance of these guilts, pain and images that they (unforgiveness) eat in order to survive. Unforgiveness has to have something to chew on and uses our energy to do it. We should stop being our own worst enemy and really live our lives to the fullest."
On the web: Let it Go