When you've been wronged or made to feel like a victim, there's often an understandable yearning to see things settled clearly and justly. But however helpful that feeling of closure can be, I've found that lasting freedom comes when forged with the forgiveness that heals. Forgiving is not always easy, comfortable. In fact, sometimes it can feel impossible, even unnecessary. Yet, forgiving is a spiritual necessity—powerful enough for Jesus to have infused much of his healing ministry with the concept.
Several years ago, my aunt was murdered by her daughter's boyfriend. When I first heard the news, shock, deep sadness, and confusion gripped me. However, instead of having to wait for closure (the murderer wasn't sent to prison until several years later), I found healing through prayer.
Dealing with the injustice was rough going at first. The senseless loss of my aunt was so hard to understand. I tried to reconcile the fact that her life had been cruelly taken from her. Yet, I discovered I needed to do more.
Through prayer and a persistent study of the Bible and Mary Baker Eddy's writings, I began to discern the spiritual fact that my aunt could not be deprived for a second of the living, spiritual identity that God created and maintained for her. That identity is immortal and includes harmony and peace. As weeks went by, I made a determined, persistent effort to push past the pain of loss to the understanding of this truth. And I soon caught a glimpse of the unharmed, holy innocence that is at the core of every child of God. The more I affirmed that God would always be the source of my aunt's life—that she was permanently sustained by God's tender love—the more I felt that I was beginning to heal.
At that time, the hard evidence linking the young man to the crime had not been located. This made it feel as if he wasn't having to face up to his actions. I knew it was necessary to go even further in my prayer.
Forgiving is not always easy, comfortable. Yet, forgiving is a spiritual necessity.
I felt a gentle, Christly demand to pray for the perpetrator—to "love my enemies," as Jesus advocated in his Sermon on the Mount (see Matt. 5:44). Appreciating my aunt's spiritual identity had been just the first step. But it helped me start down the road to thoroughly recognizing the perpetrator's spiritual innocence. That demand sometimes felt exhausting. But through steadily climbing higher in understanding spiritual truth—God's view of the situation—I recognized a need to affirm that God, divine Mind, was constituting my thoughts and actions.
I didn't have to force myself to forgive through human will. Forgiveness was not something I had to pull out of a hat and hand to someone else. It was a tender, yet powerful quality available for everyone to express. As I recognized this, I found I expressed Mind's ability to love.
I began learning that right where it seems we are struggling mortals—either unable to pardon another's actions or desperate to justify any reason for doing so—right there, divine Mind is revealing its effortless grace, unlimited love, and spiritual might through you and me. We can exchange a limited view of ourselves and others as flawed and material, for the real, spiritual view of who we are as God's own creation, and we can begin to express to a greater degree the wonderful, redeeming qualities of a healer. Then it becomes easier to see that mercy and love are such a natural part of who God made us to be.
If I did not take this step of yielding up my own confusion and feelings of injustice, I realized, my own need for redemption would not be fulfilled. That is, if I allowed hate or fear or pain to remain powerfully real to me, I'd still be believing there was a power that could successfully oppose God. But, I reasoned, God is All, impartial Love, divine Principle—the only lawmaker. And His law of tender love has to apply across the board; I couldn't hold my aunt in Love's embrace and exclude someone else.
So I started to reject vehemently the suggestion that rage could ever have governed that young man, and also to cherish the indisputable fact that God had always loved him, even if he'd turned away from God's guidance.
I saw how unloving or cruel actions actually counterfeit God's actions, which alone have power. Mary Baker Eddy wrote: "All that is beautiful and good in your individual consciousness is permanent. That which is not so is illusive and fading" (Unity of Good, p. 8). God's actions bless, soften, nourish, bolster, heal, and regenerate. They never destroy. This powerful yet tender healing activity characterizes the Christ, which Science and Health calls "the divine manifestation of God, which comes to the flesh to destroy incarnate error" (p. 583).
It became even clearer to me that when there is real need for healing and forgiveness, the Christ gently demands us to recognize that good is absolutely All, and also that evil and sin are powerless, nothing. The book of Ephesians encourages us to "be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you" (4:32).
With a deeper understanding of what forgiveness really meant, I was better able to love both my aunt's and the young man's spiritual identities. I could forgive. The grief and anger that had seemed so strong lessened and completely vanished.
After a month or so of consistently praying along these lines, I felt an inner joy that was rock-solid. It was clear that nothing could kill the Life that my aunt expressed; she was completely spiritual, immortal, God's idea. And nothing could cause the young man who committed the crime to lose his God-given goodness. He was capable of taking responsibility for what he'd done, perhaps learning difficult lessons and moving forward. (Interestingly, it was only after I and others in my family had felt true forgiveness, and gained a sense of closure, that the police were able to gather enough evidence to convict him.)
Why forgive? Well, I would say because Love yearns for us to heal. When we believe we have minds and lives separate from God, forgiveness, it seems, is the first grace to disappear. Without forgiveness, bitterness is all that's left. We forgive because this is how we live God's Mother-love. Hate brings despair, while forgiveness refreshes and beautifies. Hate smothers and depresses. Forgiveness awakens and uplifts. Hate burdens. But forgiveness ... it really does allow us to soar.
Keith Wommack teaches and practices Christian Science healing from his home base in Corpus Christi, Texas.