Study the Gospels and you’ll find that the most revolutionary teaching of Jesus was forgiveness. He told his followers they’d be forgiven as they forgive. He told several parables about the importance of forgiveness. While the Old Testament shows Joseph forgiving his brothers and David forgiving Mephibosheth, these acts are simply noted as the character of a good man. Jesus makes forgiveness a crucial part of loving God and loving others.
I’ve found the best way to live forgiveness every day is to let go of attachments. I’m not the general manager of the Universe; I need to let go of that attachment of wanting to boss others around and “help” them. I let go of the attachment of thinking I deserve to be treated a certain way, with the amount of respect due a man of my position.
I strive to remember how much respect Jesus and Paul received from those who opposed them, and realize I deserve much less than I get. As I struggle to give up entitlement and embrace humility, forgiveness flows naturally. And when I muck it up, I promptly forgive myself and try again to forgive others.
Letting go of attachments is central to forgiveness. Otherwise, forgiveness becomes just an act of will for something that we don’t really believe. But when we let go of the attachment of what we deserve and who we are, we realize the truth of needing and offering forgiveness.
We embrace the reality that we don’t have all the answers—that we are simply a life saved by Christ, struggling to love God and others. When Jesus tells his disciples they must hate their families, he is telling them to give up the attachment to anything on Earth (even though it may be a good and important thing) in order to love God entirely.
The story of Job illustrates it best. Job lost his wealth, all his children were killed, he suffered with painful boils all over his body, he sat in grief for days, and then his friends told him it all had to be his fault because a righteous God wouldn’t allow this to happen to a good man. Yet Job continued to love God, even in anger about his circumstances.
Part of my daily prayers include what I call “Job’s prayer.”
Lord, I give you my possessions,
And my life.
I often shudder after saying “My relationships,” as I consider losing my children and grandchildren and so many others that I deeply love. But I know my love for God must be higher than all that. That’s what I think it means to hate your family in order to love God.
As I strive to live in that deep love with God, I realize I need to let go of resentment, but I can’t. Then I remember God doesn’t ask me to change my feelings; he asks me to forgive. When I make that choice to forgive, my feelings follow along behind, usually later and sporadically.
While God doesn’t ask us to change our feelings, he does ask us to change our actions. God can heal every wound, but we need to choose to forgive to let the healing begin. Jesus taught this revolutionary concept in a way that was pertinent in ancient times, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, whatever crazy times we now brave, and every future time.