This article is one of the Unity Classics written by legendary leaders of Unity. Some date back decades, even a century. That’s why the language may seem a bit formal, and the writers sometimes used masculine nouns and pronouns that were considered proper for their era.
As we look at our complex and conflicted world, we might agree that the one most needed ingredient to bring forth universal peace and harmony is the attribute of forgiveness.
When we study the history of civilizations, we see that there are old resentments, old hatreds, old injustices, which continually stir the fires of revenge simmering somewhere in the human psyche.
There are religious feuds, ethnic feuds, family feuds—feuds that continue from generation to generation. The memories of past injustices roll down through the ages, and few people seem willing to forgive or forget.
The healing process must begin with us.
So to heal our world, we human beings must learn the art of forgiveness. And the healing process must begin with us.
How can we do it? How can we learn to forgive when the world teaches us that injustice must be answered, that those who have caused us pain and sorrow must be punished?
The answer lies within us—in that part of us which knows it is only through forgiveness that we can find freedom and wholeness.
As long as we hold on to "victim thinking," we are giving away our power to the kinds of people and things that bind us to our painful yesterdays.
The human part of us wants to get even, to make the other person suffer as we have suffered. We have all heard the expression, "I don't get mad; I get even." But it is this "eye for an eye" morality that has been the cause of so much human tragedy.
Gandhi said that if everyone practiced an "eye for an eye" morality, soon the whole world would be blind. In the long run, revenge does not make us feel better; instead, it fuels the never-ending cycle of retaliation. Forgiveness is the only way to heal ourselves and our world.
When Peter asked Jesus, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?" Jesus said, "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven" (Mt. 18:21-22 RSV).
Then in Romans, Paul admonishes us to "Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves … If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink … Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Rom.12:17-21 RSV).
If someone has hurt us deeply, this might seem an almost impossible assignment, but Jesus knew we must forgive if we are to have peace and harmony.
We might be thinking, "Of course, I would like to be free of my anger, my hurt, but how can I forget or forgive, when the injustice was so blatant, the betrayal so devastating?"
It is not easy to forgive.
It is not easy to forgive. At times, to make the intolerable tolerable seems beyond our human reach. And if we were only human, this might be true. But we are not only human, we are also divine. At the moment we choose the path of forgiveness, the divine love that is the heart of us begins to work its miraculous power.
There is a story of a man whose son was killed by his neighbor's dog. The man was so hurt, so angry, that all he lived for was to avenge his son's death. His hatred for his neighbor was all consuming. Finally, a famine came upon the land, and the neighbor had no seed for his field.
Hatred, anger, and resentment block the flow of God's healing love.
One night, the father shed his grudge, went out, and planted his neighbor's field. He explained his action by saying, "I sowed seeds in my enemy's field that God might exist." What he was saying was that by forgiving his neighbor he was opening the way for God to be expressed through him. Hatred, anger, and resentment block the flow of God's healing love. Unforgiveness damages us more than it does the person to whom it is directed.
The first step in freeing ourselves from our painful yesterdays is to forgive ourselves. It is difficult to forgive others when we are filled with self-condemnation and guilt. To forgive our past is to view our lives from a different perspective, from the perspective of love. When we look at ourselves through the eyes of love, we see that every experience, every person has been a part of our souls' unfoldment.
Don't we all sometimes make unwise choices? Don't we all sometimes do or say things we wish we hadn't?
Each new moment is an opportunity to choose again.
The way we reacted to life yesterday is perhaps not the way we would choose to act today. However, each new day, each new moment is an opportunity to choose again.
If we had a friend who had made some mistakes in the past but was today living a good life, would we constantly be reminding that friend of his or her past behavior? Of course we wouldn't, so why do we do this to ourselves? Guilt binds, confines, and keeps us from a creative future.
"When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways" (1 Cor. 13:11 RSV).
As we waken to and become conscious of our divine nature, we can forgive that child in us who acted from a consciousness of fear and ignorance.
"For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love" (1 Cor. 13:12-13 RSV).
It is true that people do bad things to one another, and it is difficult to understand why some people behave as they do. However, if we can look beyond the act and into the person, we will see that it is their fear—their lack of awareness—which makes them act in destructive and painful ways.
It is not our responsibility to try to change others.
That's not to say that we must accept bad behavior or that we should stay in abusive relationships. On the contrary, to do this is to not respect ourselves and certainly not to help the abuser. However, it is not our responsibility to try to change others. It is our responsibility to release them to God.
We do this through the power of love. The greatest gift we can give others is our faith that God's healing love is at work within them, bringing forth peace and harmony into their souls as well as into ours.
When we let go and let God, we free both of us. As we forgive, so we are forgiven.
The ultimate lesson in forgiveness was given by Jesus on the cross when He prayed for His persecutors: "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing" (Lk. 23:34).
We, of course, are not Jesus, but we have within us the same spirit that expressed itself through Him. And although from our human perception, it is not understandable why we have suffered, at some point in time we will see in retrospect that everything which has ever happened to us—every experience we have had, every person we have met—has been important in our souls' evolutionary journey. We will then be able to paraphrase Joseph's words to his brothers, who had sold him into slavery: What you thought was evil, God meant for good (Gen. 50:20).
The following are healing affirmations to help you move into a conscious awareness of the love that is always with you.
As you let go and let God, love's healing power will do its perfect work in you.
The forgiving love of Jesus Christ flows through my mind and heart, and I am free.
I am aware of the presence of love within me, healing and restoring my soul.
I let go of any feeling of anger, resentment, or hurt. I am a spiritual being on a spiritual journey, and no person or experience can keep my good from me.
I release you to God, and I bless you on your way. I forgive you as I am forgiven. When we meet again, it will be in the spirit of love.
Thank You, God, that this has come to pass.