“...Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23: 34).
“To err is human; to forgive is divine.” (Alexander Pope)
“Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” (Matthew 7: 1, 2).
The spiritual lesson of forgiving others for their offenses against us is one of the hardest lessons of our lives. Humanly speaking, it's not easy for anyone. (For example, ask any divorced individual how easy it was to forgive an ex-spouse—if they ever did.) Add to this the further directive from Christ Jesus to actually love and do good to those who attack, offend, or in other ways become our enemies, and we're really in a bind—we haven't even forgiven them yet! Now we're supposed to love them? Thus, these teachings on forgiveness and love may seem reasonable in what we deem to be minor offenses; but when major meanness is directed against us, we throw out the rule book. During such times, forgiveness seems just too much of us. It's too hard to return hostility with forgiveness in the first place, and to actively love them in the second place.
Daily life on planet Earth, however, does give us plenty of opportunities to practice forgiveness. Someone (I don't know who) once said, “Life is just one damn thing after another.” To our material assessment of things, this often appears to be the case. Our physical environment, where good and evil forces seem to be constantly competing for dominance, invites many battles. Conflicts with people are everywhere, giving us ample practice sessions on forgiveness. Usually, however, we take a pass. We'd rather fight than forgive.
Fighting for what's right seems to make good sense. When evil appears to overpower good, we usually protect ourselves with anything at hand. We put the subject or contemplation of forgiveness off for another day, when we're safe and sound again. We think that surely God will understand that it's impractical to love our neighbor as ourself, if our neighbor is a monster. And isn't a wronged person usually responding to real and honest emotions? Thus, assessing our physical environment as hostile in so many ways, forgiveness of the pains and losses others may cause us can seem the least of our concerns. Just surviving physically, psychologically, and financially is about all we can handle. In the late 60s and early 70s, 'Take care of Number One!' was the principle of choice. Although a purely selfish tenet to live by, it was seen as a practical one by many, if just for the sake of survival.
Thus, forgiveness is something we all know we should do, but as humans we often fall short of the mark. Along with the survival argument, self-justification is also good at taking us over, even as we try to be thoughtful, reasonable people. We merely want the scale of justice to balance before we forgive, or we want that erring person to suffer the same experience we've suffered, or we think the offense or crime is too severe to forgive it. Sometimes, try as we might, nothing about forgiveness makes sense to us. Forgiving seems to let allow our persecutors to get away with something bad, and they're not even sorry for it! Then there's the whole segment of society that believes that revenge is actually a principle—if they did it to you, do it to them. Don't get mad, get even. This is the reverse of the Christian principle, or golden rule, which Christ Jesus directed, “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.” (Luke 6: 31).
Now, I'm not going to go into the healthy aspects of forgiving others for their destructions toward us. Most people know the benefits of having peace of mind. I'm going to address how we can learn to forgive the big wrongs against us, when everything in us is screaming for retaliation. And believe it or not, there is a principle that makes it easier to forgive others, when we actually comprehend its message. This principle was uttered by Christ Jesus from the cross, when, despite his physical and mental suffering, he prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23: 34).
The assertion, 'they know not what they do' are the words to ponder. What didn't his persecutors know? Why would their ignorance merit forgiveness? How did their unnamed ignorance allow the Master to forgive?
Here's an analysis of forgiveness that unfolded for me that has made forgiving easier (notice I didn't say easy, just easier than it was). During a very difficult time, I prayed to be shown how to forgive. I knew that forgiveness is a divine quality, and I also knew that, in our spiritual identity, forgiveness is in our true nature. Yet, the human was too strong in me. (I even made up a few new reasons not to forgive.) I asked the divine consciousness within, the Christ Consciousness, to reveal to me, by way of some kind of illustration, the reason that forgiveness is Right and Logical. This is what came to my thought soon after:
Think of having a good friend, whom you know to have the characteristics of honesty and kindness. This friend has done many loving and helpful things for you in the past, and for other people in her life. In fact, this friend has many good qualities—with the exception of one: she likes to drink alcohol on weekends to unwind, but she has no tolerance for alcohol. When she becomes drunk, she goes completely out of her mind. When under the influence of alcohol, this friend has a character change—she can become mean and threatening, often breaking things and even, on occasion, physically striking people. When sober, she often doesn't remember things clearly, but tries to make up for all destructiveness. And, believing she can control things, she continues, from time to time, to drink. One day, while deeply drunk, she attacks you and cuts you with a steak-knife from a table.
Now, if this were a stranger, you might take out a warrant for her arrest and charge her with assault and battery. But you know that this isn't really her true self. This is your friend in an altered state of mind. This altered state of mind actually gives her another identity—an untrue identity, under which she does destructive things. As her friend, you know that her real self would never injure anyone. You are able to see that it isn't her real self who is the destructive one; it is the unreal personality, under the influence of a mind-altering drug, that is the culprit. Therefore, with your understanding of the complete situation, you don't try to retaliate against her, nor do you hate her; instead, you try to help her change, or find someone who can help her break the mesmerism of the alcoholic attraction. There is no 'getting even' about it. Your reaction to the attack is to help reform her. You recognize that she doesn't know what she's doing. She's not in her Right Mind. In a very real sense, her real self is quite innocent. It's the mesmeric sense she is under that commits acts of destruction against others. When fully awakened and in her right mind, she is innocent of such things.
Now, (this scenario kept unfolding to my thoughts) see that it was the same with Christ Jesus on the cross. The Master understood that the false, material sense of being, on this physical plane of thought, is an altered state of mind, from the true, divine, spiritual consciousness of man. In this altered, material state of mind, man's harmony, abundance, eternal health and life isn't perceived. Nothing of spiritual reality is perceived; and so, to the material sense of things, evil for evil seems reasonable. Evil, in the name of survival and protection of the fraudulent physical self, makes sense to our false, non-spiritual identity—the human being we think we are. The people crucifying Jesus thought they were doing a good thing for themselves—for their material daily lives. They weren't in their Right, spiritual minds. They 'knew not what they were doing' in killing their spiritual brother, who came to bring them the truth of spiritual being, and their own deliverance from the belief in mortality, with all its sickness, suffering and death. In the human condition, our fleshly sense of identity doesn't perceived spiritual reality at all, and so continues to suffer all the ills of the flesh.
So, in our own lives, while in the fleshly body and fleshy identity, we all do things to protect this false sense of self. We do selfish things all the time. We save ourselves first. We usually care for others, only when we're completely safe and comfortable ourselves. Mostly, we harm others when we can justify it as some need for ourself. Then we criticize and hate others for doing the same thing and living the same way we, ourselves, live! That's why revenge is a cycle. One does a selfish, indulgent thing to us, so we do it back to them. None of it makes spiritual sense, for the divine Creator has infinite good to bless everyone, and there are no limits or boundaries which the Almighty must live within. We each have our own place in God's Holy Family, our own place in the divine Kingdom of Heaven, and we each have our own divine provision, which no one can take from us. But we have to know this to be in our Right Mind. We have to KNOW that our good from God is ever present and evil is never necessary for anyone's good. When we aren't knowing this, Spirit's healing transformation won't be allowed to operate for us. (This was about the end of my unfoldment.)
As this reasoning sunk in, I saw the difference between the false, human identity and our real, Christly identity, (our spiritual Selfhood) which is the image and likeness of God. To our higher, truer Self, forgiveness is easy. It's easy because our true self knows that all God's sons and daughters are good, when in their Right Mind, (their divine, spiritual consciousness of all good and no elements of evil). And no matter what they do and how they act while under the influence of a false sense of being, forgiveness is easy for our higher Self because we retain the fact of everyone else's higher Self—their true, spiritual identity. When in our right, spiritual Mind, no forgiveness is even necessary; for we don't accept the power of any evil in God's spiritual universe. It is ONLY in our true Self (that true sense of Self that has no material elements in thought) that forgiveness of another's human destructions against us is easy. It is to this higher, spiritual Self that we must go and call upon when we know we need to forgive someone, for our false, limited human identity can't handle it without a great struggle.
Now, to hone in further on this subject, here's something else to comprehend about the activity of forgiveness in this material sense of life: In order to be forgiven by our spiritual Source and Creator—in order for our sins to become 'as white as snow' to God, we must realize that a divine fairness comes into play. We must forgive all others, for whatever they do to us on this material plane of thought (all trespasses against us, while under their material sense of existence) if we wish to be worthy of such forgiveness ourselves. We must admit this: in this human experience, sometimes we are the transgressor, sometimes we are transgressed against. But we are both; and because of this, the divine Wisdom of God has put before us an ultimatum: Forgive the ignorant destructions of others, to be forgiven for your own ignorant destructions. And, under no circumstances, are any of us to assume or determine that we have committed less sin, or a lesser wrong doing, than others. For when we mentally entertain such thoughts, we clearly “don't know what we do.”
Forgiveness does not leave us as losers either. There is divine remedy. If loss of supply, or some other rightful thing, has been taken from us at the hands of another, we must remember that divine Spirit, God, who is the only Creator and Lawmaker of creation will restore or replace (more than a person could) whatever we have lost humanly. But we must leave all restitution to God alone. Only infinite Intelligence knows what will be the right compensation in every instance. We live within infinite Spirit, which is our only Source. Nothing can take our spiritual provision from us, because no one and nothing can separate us from our Source. This spiritual provision of all good, forever within our own being, is willing and capable of bringing into material form, whatever we seemed to have lost at the hands of another.
Even if, through another's destructive behavior, one has lost the presence (physical life) of a loved one, we can still find joy and peace in the fact that Life is spiritual, not material. No one can kill any one or any thing which God has created. What arrogance on the part of one child of God to believe that he or she can destroy others, or even an element of God's creation! Our loved one never lost his or her life—it's still going on, known to God and the spiritually awakened, though unseen by us in physical form, on this material level of awareness. Through a steadfast trust in God's loving care and ultimate sovereignty "even over the belief in physical death" there are many instances of people who have forgiven someone for causing the loss of their child or other loved one.
When dealing with such loss and death situations, we can turn to the Biblical account, Mark 9: 2-9, showing that Jesus, on the Mount of Transfiguration, was able to see and talk with Moses and Elias, although these men had been dead, physically, for a thousand years or so. Life, a spiritual state of being, was never actually in the flesh to be lost. To one day 'have' everlasting life, we must perceive the fact that we've always had it. This is part of the spiritual reality to which we must all awaken. Another thing to become aware of is that our circumstances are never the material circumstances we believe them to be. As spiritual beings, we have divine, spiritual circumstances of health and provision that we don't yet perceive. What we can't perceive, right now, requires trust in the unseen, in order to manifest this health and provision 'in the flesh.'
Thus, the ability to forgive others begins to grow out of this same trust in the invisible kingdom of God. The knowledge and effects of such trust, first, wipes away the tears and torments of this world; and second, replaces, restores, and harmonizes humanly what was lost or destroyed in material form. The divine Intelligence, Wisdom, Love, Law, Righteousness and Purpose of God, for each of us, is our only Authority. Even when the physical evidence builds up around us, to believe that people have power over us, for good or for evil, takes us down a path that has no relationship to spiritual reality. It denies both God's ever-presence and sovereign power over creation.
Forgiveness of others, based upon the principles which Christ Jesus taught, will clear the way for the healing transformation of God to restore what was damaged or lost, in one form or another. It will even lift grief from us, as we begin to realize the truth of immortal, spiritual life. Refusing to forgive serves to hold onto the hurt, loss, and condition, as if it's really a part of us. We may not soar in the daily practice of forgiveness right away, but learning to call upon our true, Christly nature—which forgives easily—is the spiritual way we're meant to go. And, as always, taking the spiritual path, rather than the worldly path, awakens us in ways we never even imagined.