Pastor John lost most of his family in the genocide of the “Killing Fields” in Cambodia in the 1970s. He made his way to California and by the mid-1980s was pastor of a growing Cambodian church. One day he met a man at the altar of the sanctuary after the service. God was working in this man and Pastor John asked if he needed further counsel or prayer.
The man looked up and asked if he could be baptized, for he had just committed his life to Christ. The moment their eyes met, Pastor John recognized him as one of the Khmer Rouge solders that had killed his family and many others. At that moment, a myriad of emotions flooded his soul as he found himself saying to the repentant man, “Of course we can arrange a baptism.” At that moment, Pastor John also said, “I forgive you.”
Forgiveness is not excusing. It is confronting the wrong that was done to us and choosing the best for the offender instead of anger, bitterness and revenge. Forgiveness is not subjecting one’s self to abuse, but it asks for mercy for the guilty. Forgiveness is an action; a choice to regard others with the same love God regards us in Christ. As we consider how much the Lord has forgiven us, with the help of the Holy Spirit we can learn to forgive others.
Forgiveness is connected with so many other facets of our discipleship. When we forgive, there are fewer long-term negative emotions battling in our hearts. When we forgive and refuse to keep a “rap sheet” toward others, we see others in a better light and our relationships improve. When we forgive, our prayer life improves with fewer distractions as we listen to the Lord and pray for others. When we forgive, our physical health improves.
Alexander Pope once said, “To err is human; to forgive, divine.” The Bible goes beyond this and says, “When you stand praying, forgive…” As Stephen was stoned for his faith in Acts 7, he cried out for God to forgive the people killing him. Forgiveness requires the help of the Holy Spirit and our humility – a small price for such freedom!