Forgiveness has recompense not only for heaven but also for one’s experience now. Forgiveness brings about happiness. It gives rise to an experience of contentment. Forgiveness rids us of feelings of rage, hate, and bitterness and gives one a feeling of peace, joy, and gratitude in the place vacated by them. These kinds of emotions give rise to happiness. Emotions of rage, hate, and bitterness make us feel sad and distraught. So forgiveness gives rise to rewards in our experience.
What Jesus said about forgiveness
Jesus taught his apostles how to pray and the “Our Father” comprised the words: “forgive us our debts as we have forgiven our debtors” (Matt 6:12). He went on to say that if they failed to forgive others, then they also would not be forgiven. If they did not forgive, they would not be given admittance into heaven. Still, doesn’t it make sense to say that not forgiving also causes unhappiness in this life?
Reflect on the case of a person who refuses to forgive. They begrudge forgiveness, and since they do, they continue to be angry that some harm as occurred. They go on to cultivate their anger and repeat over and over the harm that someone has done. They feel like a victim. They must also maintain the emotion of hostility toward the person who occasioned the hurt, until they are able to revenge themselves. Getting revenge may not even be an option, and so they are not able to get justice and experience frustration in addition to anger.
My own story on forgiveness
My uncle was once told he had to leave his childhood home right after the funeral for his father. It was the stepmother’s attorney who gave him this injunction. This turned out to be a good thing for him since he was able to live at the home of his married sister. But he still cultivated rage about the harm that he had experienced. When one day, years afterwards, he came across the attorney on the street, he struck him with his fist and stuffed him down a manhole to revenge himself. Although an officer of the law saw this, he did not press charges because he sided with my uncle.
My uncle loves to tell this tale because it illustrates his revenge. However, there have been many perceived harms to him that he has not gotten even about. He thus habitually responds by holding grudges against people. He nurses a self-righteous disposition because he always sees others as the perpetrator and never himself. He has become a very unhappy person since he believes that he is superior to other people.
On the contrary, my mother, who experienced the same thing when she was a girl, responded with forgiveness. She didn’t hold onto a grudge and didn’t develop a habit of responding to slights with anger with grudge holding. She was grateful that her sister had taken her in and had helped pay for her college. She decided to be grateful while her brother chose to be resentful. She now has many friends, gets along with people, and has empathy for others who also suffer. As a result, she has peace of mind and experiences joy knowing that she is forgiven by God for any of her failings.
Jesus commands forgiveness and it is not optional for a Christian. And yet forgiveness and mercy are difficult. Let me give you a tip I got from my friend Steve Brown of Key Life. When I find it difficult to forgive, I tell God how I honestly feel and that I don’t want to forgive the person, but I tell him to make it a contract with me to change my heart so that I can forgive from my heart, and then I turn it over to him.
Forgiveness doesn’t always come easily and quickly but when I faithfully do this and continue to pray for the person who I don’t want to forgive, my heart gradually changes. The feelings of hurt and humiliation begin to disappear. I don’t feel like a victim anymore and my anger transforms into an honest appraisal of the person who hurt me and a realistic picture of the harm that was done. I begin to see where they are failing, but I also see where I can pray for their betterment. And finally I also begin to see where what happened actually was to my greater benefit and conducive to my happiness.
I can see how God can take the evil and turn it into good. In time a feeling of peace and joy reasserts itself and I see myself as the recipient of goodness, not harm. And this is the basis of happiness.