First of all, I want to be clear that I am not demanding that everyone just go say "I forgive you" without working through healing. While I think that forgiveness can bring about healing, there are many people out there who have been hurt far worse than I can ever imagine, and I don't know their lives or their stories. Nobody can demand that somebody forgive another person. It must come from God working in that person to guide and help them forgive another. What I don't want is that pain and hurt to turn into bitterness that prevents people from living an abundant life.
I remember a time in high school when a friend stopped talking to me, for reasons I could only guess. We never were friends after that, and I stayed angry at her for a very long time. After high school, as we all went our separate ways, we lost touch. But one day, when I was living in Utah, I decided that I needed to forgive her. The anger that I was holding on to was only keeping me bitter about it; it didn't affect her at all! In addition to that, she may not have even realized how hurt I had been when she took away her friendship.
At the time, I felt lighter; I felt as if a burden had been lifted from me. Today, while I wouldn't consider us good friends, I would consider us friendly acquaintances. We reconnected one day on Facebook, and I am happy about that, because I believe that it shows that people can let go of past hurts and move on towards healing and reconciliation.
While this experience of mine is minor, and, you might think, an easy type of forgiveness, there are people who have forgiven others for much worse. Recently, Mary De Muth wrote an extraordinary letter illustrating forgiveness when she wrote a letter of forgiveness to the boys who who sexually abused her when she was five years old.
When I think of the forgiveness experienced at the cross, I think of these words:
When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." And they cast lots to divide his clothing. --Luke 23:33-34Often, what we hear is "Jesus died for your sins". But in these words of Jesus, he is forgiving the very people killing him as they are doing it. Now, if any of you have stories about being able to forgive someone as they are hurting you the most, I'd love to hear about it, because I know I certainly haven't experienced it. For most people, it takes time. But for Jesus, it didn't. His love for them was so great that he wanted forgiveness for them while they were at their worst, while they didn't even know they were at their worst.
In both of these examples, forgiveness was given regardless of whether or not it was asked for or wanted by the perpetrators. What does that tell us? Is forgiveness for the people who did the hurting, or for the people who are hurt?