What it means to forgive

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Forgiveness is a cornerstone of many world religions. There are several passages in the Bible that tell us to forgive those who sin against us. In the abstract, the concept is easy to understand. On a superficial level, if someone bumps into you, causing you to spill your drink, an apology will usually suffice.

But what if the same person bumps into you and keeps walking without so much as a glance back? Or even worse, they say something rude? If that person is not contrite, you might have a stronger reaction. Even then, most of us will probably file that incident away in the back of our minds.

Our rational minds can deal with this and usually forgive the transgressor. But what happens when the injury is much more serious? We often read news stories about drunk drivers killing or seriously injuring motorists and pedestrians in horrific car accidents. At some point, you may have read a news item like that and wondered whether you could forgive someone who committed such a terrible crime. Especially if it resulted in catastrophic injuries or even the death of a loved one.

What is Forgiveness?

Many of us don't completely understand what forgiveness means.

In Luke, 17:3, Jesus says "If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you saying, "I repent", you shall forgive him."

Jesus tells us to forgive, yes. Yet nowhere in the Bible does He say that we should tolerate an abusive situation or avoid seeking justice for someone else's reckless or negligent actions. On the contrary, we are free to rebuke (express our disapproval towards) the transgressor as Jesus said in his own words.

Scripture does not tell us that we should simply absolve the person who has harmed us and try to suppress our memory of what happened.

Reaching the Point of Forgiveness

Forgiveness can take time. That may sound like a cliché, but there's truth in that line. It can depend on the aftermath of the event itself. Sometimes, the offender is not remorseful. That can prolong the pain, anger and resentment we feel. Obviously, it's much easier to forgive someone who's truly sorry and who apologizes for what they did.

Holding onto anger and frustration will slow the healing process and eventually eat away at our whole being. This can even lead to health problems, such as high blood pressure. Not to mention the toxic effects this type of behavior can have on our relationships.

No one is saying to try and forget what happened. There's no need for selective amnesia. Instead, it is about allowing positivity into our lives, in spite of what has occurred.

Blaming ourselves is also counterproductive. Thoughts such as, "If I had stayed home and studied like I was supposed to, that drunk driver would not have hit me" may creep into your mind. That thinking doesn't accomplish anything and actually slows down the healing process. Instead of "what ifs", the focus should be on the present.

Forgiveness and Justice Are Not Mutually Exclusive

You can forgive on a personal level and seek justice as well. Pursuing a claim against someone who has caused you and/or a loved one great physical and emotional harm is not revenge. We are holding that person accountable through the legal channels available to us.

Forgiving doesn't mean being a martyr either. As an example, say you're seriously injured in a car accident, there will be medical bills to deal with. In many cases, there are lost wages as well. As a law-abiding citizen, you have the right to receive fair and just compensation so you can take care of your family and yourself through this difficult time. A personal injury law firm can help their clients overcome these hurdles.

Catastrophic life events sometimes force us to look at the bigger picture. Perhaps the aforementioned drunk driver who hit you has a history of speeding or DUI arrests. This person is a danger to society and should have their right to drive taken away from them. If that's case, the legal system will see to it that they're stopped before they harm anyone else. Now this accident becomes about more than us, whether we are comfortable with that or not. Justice needs to be served for the greater good. In the end, being altruistic, reluctantly or not, can help us heal and reach forgiveness as well.