During a recent interview with Fox News host Bill O'Reilly, Donald Trump was asked if he could forgive someone who had offended him. O'Reilly stated that Donald claimed to be a Christian and "forgiveness is a "Christian tenet." Donald replied that while forgiving might "probably" be the "right thing to do" he preferred another biblical tenet, that of "An eye for an eye."
Two very important things ought to jump out at us in reflecting on this revealing conversation.
First, I believe Donald's statement. I think he meant it.
Second, forgiveness is not optional in the Christian life. Here's why.
A failure to forgive others leads to serious consequences. We don't have to forgive — but if we don't, there is only one other option: bitterness. Bitterness is our response to what we feel is an injustice (Proverbs 14:10). We make a mental note of the "wrong" and tuck it in our mental pocket "Saved for Later."
We believe the lie that someday, that person who "wounded" us is going to pay for the wound, and when the opportunity arises I will dig that note out and demand payment with interest! But life doesn't work that way. We can't control what others do or say to us. All we can do is have a proper (biblical) attitude towards those who have hurt us. And that proper attitude always includes forgiving people who have hurt us.
Some facts about forgiveness:
Forgiveness is costly. Forgiveness always means someone pays the price for another person's failure(s). This is what Jesus did when He went to the cross with your million sins (and mine) and paid for each one. Wonderful Redeemer!
Forgiveness of others is not forgiving sin. There is One who forgives sin, and it isn't us. Forgiving others is being willing to pay the price for the pain they caused us. Their wrong affronted the Almighty Righteous God of the universe, and inflicted pain on us. God will deal with their sin; we have to deal with the pain. Again, we deal with it biblically by choosing to pay, to absorb within ourselves, the price of the pain they caused. When we do this, we are walking a special path. A path created by our Savior.
Tip: If we haven't accepted God's forgiveness in the sacrifice of Jesus the Christ, we cannot walk the special path of forgiveness. Indeed, Jesus warns that if we don't forgive others, God won't forgive us (Matthew 6:9–15).
How about "Well, I'll forgive them, if they're sorry!"
Question: How long will it take for them to "be sorry"?
We don't know. Waiting until someone is sorry puts you on a treadmill of time that you lose control over. And it also brings serious consequences into your life. That means that today is the day of forgiveness.
That brings me to a big fat myth in our society. "Time heals all wounds." Right? Wrong.
Listen, dear friend. Time does not heal all wounds. Time will provide many opportunities for you to get healing, but that healing always involves forgiveness for the pain we experienced (and taking the pain to Jesus). I have met numerous angry, bitter seventy-year old people who were relatively cheerful when they were six years old. Time doesn't automatically heal all wounds. We get better or we get worse as we get older. We can choose to forgive. And that brings a lot of healing into our hearts.
Another myth: "They didn't mean to hurt me." Ok. They didn't "intend" to hurt you (whatever that is …).
I didn't mean to shoot my brother-in-law through the left arm with a 30.06 when we were hunting groundhogs together in 1987, either. (That's a story I'll save for later). I told him I was sorry during our hi-speed race to the hospital as I squeezed his left elbow with my right hand hard enough to break bones (slowing down the blood flow).
The fact that I didn't mean to shoot his arm (the gun jammed while unloading it) didn't heal the wound. He had to spend a couple days in the hospital. A person may not have intended to hurt us, but that doesn't erase the wound.
Another example: You overhear someone talking about you in the next room. "That Wagoner guy has a big nose. It looks like he's eating a tomato all the time." They didn't realize that I could hear them. That wipes the comment from my memory, right? Wrong. I have to forgive them after I wipe my eyes, and possibly my huge nose. The sooner the better. Listen up Donald.
I mentioned that a failure to forgive will bring grave consequences into our life. It will.
Failure to forgive will cause resentment. Then the resentment will turn into anger. The anger will turn into depression. Depression (left unresolved) will turn into despair. Despair leads to the last consequence — suicidal thoughts.
There's a better way. We can choose to forgive those who have hurt us. This makes the consequences go away. It's that simple and that profound!
Lastly, a failure to forgive will defile those around us (Hebrews 12:15). How many people does it take to get anger flowing through a family or a church? Just one. One person negatively affects another, who affects others, and so it goes. There is a better way, and that way is found in Paul's letter to the Ephesians.
"Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you." (Ephesians 4:31–32)
I began by saying forgiveness is not optional for a Christian. It isn't. Really. But it is optional at the most basic level of human choice. We don't have to forgive — we can choose bitterness. And to choose bitterness is to choose the slow death of our heart (1 John 3:19–21).
There is something in forgiveness for us. A benefit. Isaiah tells us that God's forgiveness is an extension and benefit of His own character (Isaiah 43:25). There is tremendous reward in forgiveness.
But it evidently seems too expensive for Donald. He likes the "eye for an eye" stuff because he can control the transaction.
For all of his business experience he is missing the tremendous profit and freedom that forgiveness brings into our lives. Forgiveness is profitable, both emotionally and spiritually. You would think a businessman would realize that. A true Christian one will.