Several years ago, I met Dr. Alan Hunt at the Newark Men’s Day. I was his “shadow”, helping him navigate thru the day. He had been senior minister at one of the largest Methodist congregations in the world…a mega-church; this was prior to his becoming a Catholic. A great speaker and a man of God, Alan gave me a book he had put together on ‘Forgiveness”…. beautiful stories of men and women who had decided to forgive in the midst of horrendous trials.
I was familiar with some of the stories. After the war, Corrie ten Boom came face to face with one of the worst prison guards at the Ravensbruck concentration camp where the life of her beloved sister Betsie had ended. As he approached her at the end of the meeting, she froze as the horrible memories returned. He uttered, Fraulein, will you forgive me. “Finally with tears in my eyes, I was able to utter I forgive you brother……. with all of my heart”….. the former guard and the former prisoner.
Alan related several other powerful stories of forgiveness. A father forgiving Timothy McVeigh who blew up the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995 killing his beautiful daughter and 167 others…. going from intense hatred and a desire for vengeance to mercy and forgiveness…. wow, what a story.
So, what is forgiveness? “Psychologists generally define forgiveness as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness…. it does not gloss over or deny the seriousness of an offense against you. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, nor does it mean condoning or excusing offenses.”
Johns Hopkins Hospital reports that “the act of forgiveness can reap huge rewards for your health, lowering the risk of heart attack; improving cholesterol levels and sleep; and reducing pain, blood pressure, and levels of anxiety, depression and stress. And research points to an increase in the forgiveness-health connection as you age.”
But there’s much more to forgiveness. Jesus underlines the importance of forgiveness in the Our Father…”forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” Our forgiveness is conditional on us forgiving. The story of the prodigal son sums up the process of the sinner asking and receiving forgiveness …. the son admitting his sins, and declaring himself unworthy of being his father’s son, …. his father accepting him back wholeheartedly without hesitation…. the beginning of a new life.
Forgiveness is powerful, transforming, difficult …… even maybe impossible without the grace of God. Sometimes the hurt is just too much. Yet, what choice do we have? Father, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And when we forgive, the grace of God transforms us… we become more like the Lord, like the great God we love and serve…. like our savior who has forgiven us. Christ has forgiven us and even prepared a magnificent place for us in our heavenly home. Forgiveness, the key to opening the gates of heaven. And that is very good news.