We’ve all suffered injustice. But no matter how grievous the offense, as we’ve been forgiven, we must forgive.
Every day in our world, in our society and in our individual communities, somebody is treated unfairly. Someone is hurt, even though he or she didn’t deserve it. Someone is lied to or lied about. Someone is ignored or attacked. Someone is singled out or discriminated against. Many of us don’t have to look far to find such mistreatment—because we’re the ones who experience it!
If you’ve been the object of slanderous gossip at church or passed over for a promised promotion on the job or harassed because of someone else’s prejudice and fear, join the club. We all feel the pain of unfair treatment at some point in our lives.
Unfortunately, few of us know how to handle being mistreated by others. We get hung up on the who, what, when, how and why of the offense, justifying our anger and never entertainING the notion of forgiveness—at least, not right away. After all, we think, why should we forgive someone who has treated us wrongly?
This is a relevant question for Christians to ask. Our Savior and model, Jesus, was treated unjustly—and yet as He hung on the cross, He said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34). He didn’t get hung up on the mistreatment He was receiving; instead, He was quick to forgive.
We should be too. But of course, that’s easier said than done.
I know. I was 5 years old when my father, Martin Luther King Jr., was shot to death while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn. The date was April 4, 1968.
I grew up very angry because my father had been unfairly taken from me at such a young age. And in the years that followed, three more deaths in the family sent me into an even deeper abyss of hatred and anger.
In 1969, my Uncle A.D., my father’s youngest brother and the man who taught me how to swim while we were on a summer vacation in Jamaica, drowned mysteriously at his home a few days after returning from this vacation. In 1974, my grandmother, Alberta Williams King, was shot to death while playing “The Lord’s Prayer” on the organ at our family church, Ebenezer Baptist in Atlanta. Two years later, my 20-year-old cousin, Darlene King, A.D.’s daughter, died of a heart attack while jogging.
The pain of so much death and loss left me feeling so angry that I started drinking as a teenager. Later, as a law student at Emory University, I contemplated suicide.
But as I held the knife in my hand, I heard the Holy Spirit whisper, “People are going to miss you.” I put the knife down and eventually sought counseling. My life began to change—even more dramatically after I received the baptism of the Holy Spirit in 1995.
Since then, the Holy Spirit has been teaching me how to conquer the “unforgiveness factor” in my life. He’s been teaching me how to overcome my anger and forgive, even in the face of treatment that is wrong or unfair.
Often when people do things to us that we feel we don’t deserve, we spend an inordinate amount of time trying to get back at them or nursing a grudge against them. But what would have happened if Jesus had harbored anger toward His accusers or contemplated revenge against them as He hung on the cross? He would never have completed His mission to reconcile us back to God.
The truth is, whenever we harbor ill feelings, they poison our spirits and prohibit us from reaching our goals and walking in our destinies. Proverbs 23:7 reminds us that “as [a person] thinks in his [or her] heart, so is he [or she].” That means that if we dwell on thoughts and feelings that are negative, we will end up living out the negative; but if we dwell on thoughts and feelings that are positive, we will live out the positive.
No matter how others treat us, we must not focus on their negative actions but on the positive rewards of responding as Jesus would. Jesus didn’t get hung up on anger and revenge but focused on the greater good. He forgave His wrongdoers, canceling the power of their wrongs to control Him in any way.
They Do Not Know What They Do
Certainly Jesus could have tried to get even with those who crucified Him. But He recognized that they did not know what they were doing. He understood that He was dealing with people who had imperfections—faults and weaknesses that kept them from dealing with Him fairly.
In order for us to forgive others when we’ve been mistreated, we, like Jesus, must acknowledge that people are imperfect. Even Christians are imperfect.
When we are born again, it is our spirits that are immediately made new. Our souls—our wills, minds and emotions—and our bodies are still old. Every day, we must deny our old selves, renew our minds through daily meditation on God’s Word and choose to be like Christ in all that we do. But it’s a slow process.