Christians should practice forgiveness for those who have greatly wronged them just as God has forgiven them, the Rev. Billy Graham says.
When asked a question about family reconciliation after a father deserted his children when they were young but was reaching out to them 30 years later, Graham's advice was to forgive, because it will lead to healing.
"You have carried this burden long enough," says Graham, founder of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, in his "My Answers" column.
He explains that Jesus calls Christians to forgive because He "forgave you, (Colossians 3:13)." And because holding resentment can feel like an "acid eating away at your minds and hearts. And they will continue to do so, as long as you keep them bottled up and don't seek to forgive your father for what he did."
Graham acknowledges that while forgiving such a grave offense can be difficult, it is also necessary to begin "healing the hurts that have been with you all these years."
However, to forgive is not to forget, Graham continues. "This doesn't mean you overlook what your father did or pretend it didn't happen — because it did, and what he did was very wrong."
Rather, we forgive to free ourselves of the burden of resentment and pain.
Forgiveness isn't easy, but the best thing Christians can do is "begin by turning to Christ for the forgiveness you need for your own sins. Then ask God to help you forgive your father in the same way He has forgiven you — freely and fully, even if he doesn't deserve it."
"It won't happen all at once — but even a card or a phone call expressing love could be a start. Yes, he caused you great hurt — but he's still your father, and you wouldn't be here without him," Graham adds.
Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Orange County, California, has also spoken on the importance of forgiveness, writing in a Daily Devotional this week that Christians should forgive because God has forgiven them, because resentment is self-torture, and because we need forgiveness every day.
Resentment, Warren writes, is "a self-inflicted wound."
"Whenever you're resentful, it always hurts you more than the person you're bitter against. In fact, while you're still worrying about something that happened years ago, the other person has forgotten about it! Your past is past, and it can't hurt you any more unless you hold on to it," the evangelical pastor continues.
Warren adds that if we want the daily gift of forgiveness, we too need to practice forgiveness for others.
"We cannot receive what we are unwilling to give. Do you want to be forgiven? The Bible says you need to be forgiving," the evangelical leader writes.