Matthew 5:43-48Jesus said to the disciples, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven ..."
A more modern interpretation of the passage above is that we should forgive, forget, and reconcile with (love) our enemies.
Easier said than done.
God knows that, and He understands when, often, we cannot achieve this commandment to the letter.
Let us analyse it a little further.
Forgiveness is an act, a positive act, not a feeling. We cannot say I feel I have forgiven him, therefore I have. We must decide to forgive, whether or not the other person has sought forgiveness or even cares whether we have forgiven him or not. We decide, deep in our hearts, that we no longer bear any ill-will towards that person. No longer do we want revenge, punishment or retribution of any kind. We have totally forgiven them once and for all - and ... here is the difficult bit: WE CAN PROVE IT TO GOD SHOULD HE ASK US TO.
So ... we have dealt with the first bit of the equation. We have truly forgiven.
The second bit is forgetting. This is almost impossible. God created us with a memory and short of hypnotism or some accident or action that leads to loss of memory, we will remember.
The deeper the hurt done to us, the more we will remember. The slightest thing will trigger that memory. A song perhaps, a picture, visiting a place, something someone says ... and we will remember once again the hurt done to us. We may resent the hurt done to us. We may become bitter and perhaps angry. This is natural and we should not reproach ourselves about it. God knows about these feelings because He created us this way - with a memory that brings back to life the bad times in our lives.
Let us use these bad memories to forgive once again. Let them be a trigger to decide once more to forgive the one who hurt us. Let them be an opportunity to pray for that person and hand them over to God. To ask Him to take care of them and to get them to know Him better.
The final bit of the equation is to "love" or reconcile with our enemy. The one who hurt us.
As an ideal state, this is worth pursuing. But let us not fool ourselves. There are times when this is impossible, or indeed it is imperative that we do not reconcile with the one who has hurt us.
Let me explain.
As human beings one of our basic instincts is to protect ourselves, and our loved ones, from danger and from evil. Again ... God created us this way.
There are times when to reconcile with the one who hurt us puts us, or our loved ones, back into a situation of danger.
Let's look at an example scenario:
Imagine a case of divorce. Is it really possible that the couple reconcile again to the extent that they live together again as husband and wife as before ... as if nothing had happened? To live together without the slightest doubt, suspicion, fear or feelings that led to the divorce in the first place?
Let us raise the stakes a little.
What if the actions of one of the spouses had created havoc in their life as well as yours? What if that action repeated itself over and over again with not the slightest intent or effort to improve the situation. Is it still possible for you to reconcile totally knowing full well that the chances are there will be a repeat of that action, putting you and yours in danger? Would it be the prudent thing for you to do? To reconcile totally and keep your fingers crossed and hope against hope?
Let us raise the stakes some more.
What if the actions of your spouse had hurt badly someone you love? Your parents for instance, or your offspring? What if to reconcile and return back to your spouse would mean hurting these people once again; or indeed put them in some danger? Would you still reconcile totally?
I think I made my point.
To forgive that individual who hurt us is a decision that we can make; and we can forgive them again and again every time the memories come back to haunt us. God asks no more than that.
But to reconcile totally and go back to a situation as it was before is not always possible.
God does not ask for that. He does not ask us to put ourselves and others in danger for the sake of "loving our enemies".
We can easily love them from a distance. We love them in our hearts in as much as we pray for them and re-affirm again and again in our hearts that we have forgiven them.
Christ did say to His disciples that at times they should leave certain places and shake the dust from their sandals.
He did not say return there again and put yourself in danger of being attacked, arrested or killed.
When some of His followers could no longer accept His teachings when He said, "whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me, and I live in him"; they got up and left Him. He did not call them back and attempt to explain. He just let them go. He forgave them and let them go.
That is what we are asked to do ... some times ... to those who have hurt us. To forgive them ... again and again ... and let them go.