Must I Forgive Others?
"I didn't know it would take so long to get over it or that I would have to forgive so many people."
ife is full of choices. The choices we make affect our lives and the lives of those around us. Because God has given us a free will, we can choose to do right or wrong. We can choose to forgive or to not forgive.
Must you forgive others? No. You do not have to forgive other people. But ask yourself, "Is there anyone I should forgive with regard to my abortion?"
What does it mean to forgive others?
Before we discuss the why, who, and how of forgiveness, it will help to understand precisely what it means to forgive another person. The dictionary defines the word "forgive" as, "To give up resentment against or the desire to punish; stop being angry with; pardon; 2. to give up all claim to punish or exact penalty for (an offense); overlook; 3. to cancel or remit (a debt)."
Forgiveness is more than giving up resentment toward another person. Forgiveness is extending to that other person what God has done for you. Have you ever heard the story of the unforgiving servant? It's found in Matthew 18:21-35. A servant owed his master an enormous sum of money. He went to his master and begged to be forgiven the debt. His kind master forgave the debt. That same servant then went out and found a fellow slave who owed him money. The fellow slave could not pay the debt and begged for forgiveness. The slave, who had been forgiven of the large debt by his master, threw his fellow slave into prison. The master heard of this and rebuked the unforgiving servant, reminding him of the debt he had been forgiven. As a penalty for refusing to forgive a debt after the kindness showed to him, the master threw the unforgiving slave into prison. Forgiving means passing on to others the forgiveness extended through Christ to you.
Forgiveness has no limit. It has no contingencies. Forgiveness is understanding that it is not we who keep the records, but God. Forgiveness means never mentioning the incident again once you have settled it ¾ not to the other person or to anyone else. It means not thinking about the incident. It means forgetting about it just as God has forgotten about your sin.
I believe forgiveness involves three factors. First, we must understand in our mind the necessity for forgiveness. Second, we must choose with our will to forgive. Third, our heart must be aware of the emotional commitment we are making. Forgiveness is love in action ¾ a response to a need that only we can fulfill.
Whew! That sounds like an impossible task! You feel such anger and resentment inside toward the various people who "helped" you to abort your baby. How on earth can you give up those feelings? You can, you know. And although you may not feel like doing it, you will experience a freedom and release that defies expression once you take the step.
Why should I forgive?
There are several reasons why we should forgive others for their involvement in our abortions. God in Ephesians 4:32 gives us the most important reason why we should forgive others: "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you" (see also Colossians 3:13). If you asked God through Christ to forgive you for aborting your unborn baby, He did. Christ had to leave heaven and come to earth as a man to die on the cross in order for a perfect God to forgive imperfect people. Imagine what a sacrifice that was ¾ to leave the glories of heaven for thirty-three years and then to die for someone else. And Christ never opened His mouth to defend Himself (Isaiah 53:7). He silently took the blame for sins He never committed. He never got angry with us. Never hated us. Instead, as Christ hung on the cross, He said to God, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34). Now God tells us that just as Christ did that for us, so we should forgive others. Our part is much easier than Christ's, because we do not have to suffer and die in order to forgive someone. We forgive by an act of our will.
Another reason to forgive is that when we ask God to forgive our sins, it is with the understanding we have already forgiven others. Part of the Lord's Prayer in Luke 11:4 reads, "Forgive us our sins for we also forgive everyone who sins against us" (NIV). How can we possibly present ourselves before God Almighty if we have failed to forgive someone a lesser sin than the ones we have committed? I like the way Dr. James Dobson puts it: "Realize that no offense by another person could equal our guilt before God who has already forgiven us. We are obligated to show that same mercy to others."
I found that once I forgave others, my eyes were opened to the fact that those people involved in the pro-abortion are human beings who are just as precious to God as the human beings who were aborted. Forgiving others made me realize that God through Christ wants to forgive all those involved in abortion. But people won't change their minds unless they first see something in you and in me that makes them want to switch to our point of view. Those who are pro-abortion must see not only the love and concern we have for unborn babies, but also the love and concern we have for them. That doesn't mean we will cease speaking the truth that abortion is murder. It does means we will learn to differentiate between loving the individual and hating the evil he or she does. That's how God deals with us. God loved and forgave us even though we killed an innocent human being created in His own image. He loves us but hates our sin.
Think about this. If a person came at you about something you had done wrong with hatred in their eyes and bitterness in his or her heart, how would you react? Even if you knew you were wrong, chances are you would deny the wrong and harden your heart against correction (Proverbs 18:19). A forgiving spirit allows us to effectively approach people in order to teach them the truth. My parents loved and forgave me long before I had asked for their forgiveness. I had killed their grandchild ¾ a blood-related part of them. The reason they forgave is that they loved me more than they hated my sin.
Another reason to forgive is a very practical one, for your own health. I found an interesting article in The Washington Times which explains that people who fail to release anger often have heart problems caused by a chronic constriction of the blood vessels that reduce the flow of blood to the heart. Think about it. It makes sense. Failure to forgive people causes bitterness to fester inside of us. If we remain tense, it affects us physiologically. On the other hand, "A joyful heart is good medicine," (Proverbs 17:22a).
Whom should I forgive?
You should forgive anyone personally involved in your abortion against whom you harbor feelings of anger, resentment, bitterness, hate, or animosity. You may have to do some serious thinking to come up with all the names of those you need to forgive. There may be some people against whom you have never consciously admitted holding a grudge. People to forgive might include your personal physician, the specific people who performed your abortion, your parents, boyfriend or husband, and other relatives or friends. That same forgiveness should be extended to those not personally involved in your abortion. This would include owners of abortion clinics, anyone who performs or assists in performing abortions, legislators who voted for liberal abortion laws, the Supreme Court which decided abortion was a woman's right, and various members of society who pushed for that right.
Let me give you an example of how many people some of us need to forgive. The following is quoted from a letter I received: "I'm angry with everyone ¾ even God. I am a nurse. I see multiple women who have had one or more abortions and drop babies like rabbits. They have no income to support the children and most are unwed and drug addicts. Why am I being punished? I have a wonderful husband, job, home, and income. I'm truly sorry for my abortion ¾ but that doesn't matter. I can't have a child. That hurts."
Can you pick out the people this woman needs to forgive? Although she is "angry with everyone," a blanket act of forgiveness will not do. She must specifically and individually forgive other women who have aborted and can still bear children, pregnant women, women with children, people who are poor and have children, unmarried mothers, women who are addicted to drugs yet still have children, and herself. That's quite a few people, isn't it?
It helps to make a list of people you need to forgive. Wherever possible, use a person's specific name (e.g. "Dr. Jones" rather than simply "doctor"). It may take you a while, but write down every name.
How do I forgive others?
We are down to the hard part. We have realized there are people we need to forgive. We have made a list either mentally or on paper of whom those people are. Now we must carry out our commitment to rid ourselves of the guilt we carry by having not forgiven people who hurt us. We must turn our hate list into a love list.
Here are some practical steps in forgiving others:
1. Recognize you are totally forgiven and can forgive others because of the power given to you through the Holy Spirit to obey God’s Word.
2. Pray that the person who has sinned against you will be convicted by God’s Holy Spirit of his or her sin, and will seek God.
3. Understand that God alone has the responsibility to meet your needs.
4. Ask God how you can grow and mature spiritually from this experience.
5. Reconcile with those from whom you have been estranged
Reconciliation involves two actions: seeking forgiveness for wrongs done to others and extending forgiveness to those who seek pardon. A person who has hurt you may come to you to seek your forgiveness. In this instance, you should forgive them no matter what part they played in your abortion. The Bible tells us to forgive seventy times seven, which means we should forgive a person whenever they ask, no matter how many times they ask. Our here task is not to judge, but to keep on forgiving.
Usually people will not come to you. It will be your responsibility to go to them. There are several ways you can initiate a reconciliation. The best way (and the hardest) is to go to people in person to seek their forgiveness for your wrong reaction to them. If distance is a problem, you may want to telephone or write to each person you need to forgive. In some cases you may not know how to contact a person. This often is the case with medical personnel or possibly the father of your baby. To this day I have been unable to locate the father of my aborted baby. To rid myself of my anger towards him, I forgave him in my heart before God. Additionally, I pray for him and others that they may one day seek God's forgiveness for their part in my abortion.
You will want to speak privately and sincerely, with humility and love. Your words should include admission and acceptance of your responsibility for your abortion. This is such a good opportunity for these other people to see the change Christ has made in your life. Tell them that you have been wrong and want to set things right. Tell them that you have asked Christ to forgive your sin in aborting your unborn baby. Explain why you now understand it was wrong. Explain that because Christ forgave you, you now have the freedom and desire to forgive others. Then say these words, "I am sorry, I sinned. Will you forgive me?" I know ¾ the words will probably stick in your throat. You can do it. It won't be easy, but the blessing will far surpass the difficulty!
Will I ever be able to forgive _____________ for the part that person played in my abortion?
There may be that one person you believe you simply cannot forgive. The blank was left intentionally for you to mentally fill with that person's name. Who is it ¾ your boyfriend, your mother, the clinic, Planned Parenthood? I know what you are feeling and how difficult forgiving will be.
Three examples of forgiveness under the most difficult circumstances occur to me. The first is Joseph, who forgave his brothers although they had conspired to kill him, sold him into slavery, which in turn resulted in his spending two years in prison for a crime he never committed. Next consider Stephen, the first Christian martyr. As he was being stoned to death, he cried out, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them!" (Acts 7:60). Finally, I think of the Lord Jesus Christ, who, as He hung on the cross dying for my sins, pleaded, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34).
You can forgive that person. But you must choose by an act of your will to forgive him or her.
Why am I having such a difficult time forgiving others?
It's normal to struggle with forgiving others. You have been deeply hurt by people who influenced you to abort. Forgiving others is not a normal human response. It's okay for it to be hard. Forgiveness takes a superhuman effort. That is why it can not be accomplished without God's intervention. God gives our heart the love which enables us to honestly and completely forgive others. Don't try to forgive in your own strength because you will find it impossible and/or temporary. The quotation which reads "To err is human, to forgive divine" has much truth to it.
A personal story from the life of Corrie ten Boom reveals the difficulty in forgiving others. In 1947 Corrie ten Boom, a former prisoner at Revensbruck concentration camp, had returned to defeated Germany bringing the message that God forgives. Present in the auditorium was a man who had been a guard during Miss ten Boom’s incarceration. She remembered him. At the end of her message, this man came forward and said that he had now become a Christian. He knew that God had forgiven him, but he wanted to know if Miss ten Boom would also forgive him. This he asked of a woman who daily lived and spoke of God's forgiveness. Yet for Miss ten Boom time stood still as she fought her strong desire to not touch her former guard's hand in forgiveness. Scenes of her sister's death and the humiliations she herself endured at Revensbruck leaped to her mind. Corrie ten Boom knew forgiveness is not an emotion, but rather an act of the will. She knew the will could function "regardless of the temperature of the heart." She silently prayed for Jesus to help her. She lifted her hand as she asked God to supply the feeling. She mechanically thrust her hand into the hand of her former guard. Corrie ten Boom relates that she experienced a healing warmth which extended from her shoulder down through their joined hands. With tears in her eyes she cried out, "I forgive you, brother!" Miss ten Boom says she never knew God’s love more intensely than at that moment.
A terrible wrong has been done to you by others. You won't correct the situation by inflicting more wrong on those people by words or actions. Instead, display love and forgiveness. With God's help, you can and will forgive every person involved with your abortion.
How should I respond to those who reject my forgiveness?
Sometimes we want to place a contingency upon the forgiveness we extend to others. This is called bargaining. If we forgive others we expect others to forgive us. This is a normal expectation. However, if the people we seek forgiveness from refuse to forgive us ¾ what then? Do we retract our words until they come across? No. We understand that the problem is now between them and God. Perhaps this little acrostic will help:
What if I choose not to forgive?
There is no gentle way to put this. If you do not do what God tells you to do, if you do not extend to others the forgiveness God has given to you, you will not be right with God. Period. The fact is, if you refuse to forgive, or hold contingencies upon forgiving, then you will continue to suffer. Your anger, bitterness, and frustration will build up until you either explode with rage or become eaten up with self-pity.
Alma wrote these words, "This letter does not come easy. I am learning to let it be easy for it is not my burden anymore. I have spoke to my husband (who does not know Jesus as his Lord) and asked his forgiveness for it was my strong stand that made our choices. I have also written to my parents asking their forgiveness. They have not talked to me about it, but I am free of the burden. I may never get them to speak to me face to face. But, I feel free from the years of pain and emotional turmoil."
Laura writes, "One day the Lord spoke to me regarding forgiving the doctor; Planned Parenthood and others involved in my abortion. He said, 'Forgive them for they know not what they are doing.' I realized then that they thought they were helping me. They used words like 'menstrual extraction' because they felt an uninformed decision was a less painful one. They only added to my denial ¾ I wish they had been honest; but I chose to forgive them with the Lord's help. This is one of the ways I was able to be free." That same freedom will be yours once you forgive all those involved in our abortion. The choice is yours. What will you do?
Before I read this chapter, I had a question about . . .
In this chapter I have learned . . .
To resolve my post-abortion trauma, I will . . .
I need to talk to God about . . .
A verse from the Bible which helped me in this chapter is . . .
After reading this chapter, I have hope because . . .
Dr. James Dobson, Focus on the Family Bulletin, March 1989.
John Accola, "Chronic Anger Found Hazardous to Heart" The Washington Times, January 10, 1989.
Joseph's moving story is recorded in Genesis 37-50.
Corrie Ten Boom, I'm Still Learning to Forgive (Good News Publishers, Westchester, Illinois, n.d.), tract.