How Many Times Should I forgive? – Part 2

While the article below quotes the Bible, it is not a theological or religious discussion. As such, it does not promote any religion or religious perspective.

Then Peter approached him with a question, "Master, how many times can my brother wrong me, and I must forgive him? Would seven times be enough?"

"No," replied Jesus, "not seven times, but seventy times seven!"

John JB Phillips Translation of the New Testament - Matthew 18:21 & 22

For some, the above passage from the New Testament elicits the image of two unlikable people.

One of them is a pathetic victim, on the receiving end of a constant stream of insults and injuries. The other is an inveterate villain repeatedly hurting, taking advantage of, or betraying the victim. And each time the repeat victim is wronged, the transgressor is forgiven.

What takes the above-described scenario from absurd to outrageous is that Jesus, the only sinless figure in the Bible, inexplicably seems to side with the villain. He neither mentions nor calls for any punishment of the wrongdoer. According to the text, the only guidance Jesus offers is directed to the victim. Forgive. Keep forgiving. No matter how often you are wronged by the same person, forgive them. 

Put aside that, on the surface, Matthew 18:21 & 22 appears to promote the placating of bad behavior. Think about the absurdity it describes. Is there any situation where anyone could realistically ever be in a position where they’ve been physically, mentally, or emotionally hurt by and need to direct forgiveness toward the same person many hundreds of times?  

Yes. As it turns out, there is.

You see, our subconscious generally doesn’t know the difference between an actual negative, life-altering event and one that is being vividly imagined. This is significant since that is the part of our brain that generates emotions, including stress and fear responses. According to Dr. David Hamilton, PhD., “This means that what you imagine to be happening is actually happening as far as your brain is concerned.” (See Does your brain distinguish real from imaginary? at Dr. Hamilton’s website).

After waking from a nightmare, what’s the most common thing we say when describing our feelings while the bad dream unfolded? “It was so real!” A bad dream is bad because, until we wake up, we believe the nightmare is real.

If you have not yet forgiven someone who has caused you pain in any form, whenever you vividly remember the original event that caused that pain, you might as well be experiencing it all over again. So, the first time this replay occurs, it’s somewhat like you’ve experienced the event two times. Now, the wound is worse because this new pain has been added to the pain that was already there.  

Every time your mind ruminates over what happened, the offender and what they did become worse. This distorting enlargement of the truth feels right because you believe your own feelings.

But your feelings are not only fed by your memory of the original event that caused you pain. They are also formed by all the times you mentally stew over what happened that caused you so much pain in the first place. 

Over the course of many years, how many times does the mental movie of pain and offense get replayed? 490 times? At least. This goes on… and on… and on when we choose not to forgive. Even if the hurtful event only happened once, our mental retelling of the narrative of pain over and over again makes it feel worse over time. 

So, the old adage about time healing all wounds is false. Time does not heal all wounds. Without forgiveness, the wounds get worse, not better. Without forgiveness, one injury soon turns into seven. Seven eventually becomes seventy… then seventy times seven.  

In truth, this happens even when you do forgive. 

Let’s say you forgive the person who hurt you. Well into the future, you will remember that person or what they did and the pain you experienced. In such moments, do not focus or dwell on the pain you experienced! That can only lead to resuming the same hurt feelings all over again.

In a way, it is like your subconscious is inviting you to take back the forgiveness you’ve granted. And remember, the subconscious part of the human mind is where our emotions come from. It cannot be counted on to make logical, rational decisions that are good for you, especially in the long term. So, if you care about your mental, emotional, and physical health, do not accept such invitations. 

More and more experts are tracing a growing list of diseases and disorders to the anger, resentment, and bitterness associated with unforgiveness. It’s no wonder. The pain related to an offense that remains unforgiven does not stay the same. It grows like a cancer. 

From any angle you look at it, nothing is made better by the choice to withhold forgiveness. Far from it. Everything your subconscious has linked to what the wrongdoer did is made worse over time when not released through forgiveness. 

Depending on who you are, what happened, and the nature of your relationship with the person who hurt you, forgiving them could be a very difficult thing to do. But the alternative is always worse.

Refusing to forgive is equal to needlessly consigning yourself to a mental and emotional prison to which you hold the key. Forgive. For your own health and happiness, forgive. Reject every invitation sent by your subconscious to hold onto anger, resentment, or bitterness toward someone for what they did. Forgive. 

opportunity Forgive again.

, forgive again. How many times? Seven times? No, seventy times seven.

Resources on the connection between unforgiveness and disease:
Harbouring feelings of bitterness ‘increases the likelihood of physical disease’
Bitterness Can Make You Sick
Unforgiveness and Cancer
How Anger Hurts Your Heart
CNN Article Says Unforgiveness, Anger, Bitterness Can Ruin Your Health

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