In the most simple terms, forgiveness can mean letting go of resentment or anger caused by an offense. The Oxford English Dictionary defines forgiveness as “to grant free pardon and to give up all claim on account of an offense or debt”. Forgiveness has also been explored in great depth as it relates to faith and religion. In general, most world religious teachings provide skills for finding divine forgiveness for a person’s own faults as well as practicing forgiveness of each other. Clearly this is a difficult concept to define in just a few words, and just as hard to carry out. Let’s explore a little further.
Perhaps the most famous Christian story for teaching forgiveness is the Parable of the Prodigal Son. A short summary of the story begins with a wealthy landowner who has two sons, the younger of which asks to be given his implied inheritance early. The older son stays at home, works the land and serves his father well. The younger brother travels for several years, squandering his fortune. During those years the father fears his youngest son is gone forever. The young son arrives home with the intention of asking his father for a servant’s job. He understands the sins he has committed, knows they are grave and make him not worthy of taking his same place in his father’s household. But the son is instead met with open arms. His father is loving and happy to see his son alive. There are celebrations, a feast and great happiness in the village. Except the older son is angry, questioning his father about why he welcomes the younger man home after spending all his money. The oldest has spent years working the land with his father and never has there been a feast celebrating him. His father replies: “But it was appropriate to celebrate and be glad, for this, your brother, was dead, and is alive again. He was lost, and is found.”
While the Parable of the Prodigal Son may not seem overtly based on forgiveness, it is there. Consider the request by the youngest son for his inheritance. The implication of the request is not only that of greed, but also implies a wish for the death of the father. Through his misuse of the money, the boy landed himself in poverty and humiliation with nothing else to do but return home as a vagrant. The father, knowing full well how the boy had wronged him years earlier, forgives his youngest son. He has given up anger, resentment and thoughts of punishment, instead opting for thankfulness of his safe return. Through the years of spending, excessiveness, eventual poverty and disgrace, the boy realises his brash and insolent ways of the past. He learns what real value is, in love and family.
Now let us consider the attitude of the oldest son. He is evidently steeped in duty, staying with his father and working hard. Through the years, this oldest son has most likely been taught the skills to run a household and a farm. There were probably moral lessons as well, but what the boy absorbed is debatable. Perhaps when his younger brother set out with his fortune, he felt jealousy and resentment at the freedom his sibling was about to experience. It is possible there was a grudge held against his brother for the many years of absence. It is therefore understandable that his reactions to the celebrations of his brother’s return were resentment and anger. He does not appear to show love or relief for the safe return of his kin. In fact, it seems his mindset is centered on advantage, reward and self-righteousness. There is a clear lack of forgiveness.
We must love our self before we can love another person enough to want the best for them. In wanting what is best, we can let go of the evil they may do towards us. In that light, it was the oldest son who was greedy, not the youngest. The older of the two stayed home with his father out of hope for a larger piece of the estate and perhaps to be rewarded as the ‘loyal’ son. He did not stay out of love or the goodness of his heart. Without that deep love for his father and brother, he couldn’t see what was best for his family. He only saw what he could gain from the situation; therefore there was nothing he could give up of himself to forgive his sibling. The youngest son acted with immaturity in asking for his money, but he soon learned the real value in life is not wealth. The safety and love of family brought him home and enabled forgiveness to be received.
Forgiveness is one of the hardest things for a human being to do. It requires surrendering pride, a strong force within our personality. We also need the ability to be honest with ourselves, and not be afraid to show our faults. To forgive we need to love our self enough to want to let go of the anger, and that is perhaps the hardest part. Forgive yourself for having faults, and you will be forgiven for having them.
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