Why can’t we forgive ourselves and others? It is one of the most challenging acts that our ego can hardly allow us to do. One possible reason is that forgiveness requires us to overcome our emotional instincts, which rest on the older layer of our consciousness.
Even if your mind tells you to forgive, your emotion never allows you to do so. Emotion always wins. If ever mind wins and you think you can forgive, then this sense is often vulnerable and short-lived. Sooner or later, another unforgivable incidents take us with emotional reactions, which spoils everything at once. And you are back to the state that “I can’t forgive!” It seems that we have to repeat this cycle for the rest of life.
It is like the constant struggles between mind and emotion even if our conscience distinguishes what we should do from what we shouldn’t. Even if we can see the difference, which doesn’t necessarily mean that we can control it.
Paul, the Apostle, confessed his struggles as follows:
For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?Romans 7:19-24
Confessing all his struggles, he even shouted at himself. “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”
He knows he can’t forgive others. And he notices that his act of unforgiving is not good. Nevertheless, he can’t stop. And eventually, he can’t forgive himself, either. He can’t forgive himself and others.
Can we forgive ourselves and others? No, we can’t.
We can’t control our carnal selves. Perhaps, we could manage it to some extent. But it is only to some extent and short-lived. The cycle of our struggle never ends for the rest of life.
Thus, Paul cried out, “Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” And he continued the following phrase.
I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.Romans 7:25
His mind serves the law of God, despite the flesh with the law of sin. What does it mean?
We are, by nature, the unforgivable and unforgiving existence. By default, we can’t forgive ourselves and others. Perhaps we shouldn’t. Our bloody history and present violence tell us enough for this fact. We need to accept this cruel reality.
We can’t forgive. So, we killed ourselves and others. We still do as if we forgot the Commandment of “Thou shalt not kill.” We don’t forgive and yet kill ourselves and others because of the intolerance of each other’s differences. The clash of civilizations is still rampantly out there.
Let me repeat Paul’s plea. That is indeed our plea as well:
O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?Romans 7:24
Despite our sinfulness, or more correctly because of our sinfulness, we have no choice at all except for “thanking God.” Thus, Paul started the next chapter in the following verses. It is the beginning of the well-known eighth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans:
There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.Romans 8:1-2
Let me repeat it. We can’t forgive ourselves and others.
Thus, only our repentance and realization that “we are forgiven” can change everything on earth and heaven. In the entire chapter, we can see how Paul feels the freedom from his struggles.
Our “effort” of forgiving ourselves and others is so petty and short-lived, even misleadingly and narcissistically self-indulgence and self-pity.
His forgiveness is totally different. How do we feel if we know God forgave us despite our sinfulness? Paul expressed as follows. We see Paul’s overwhelming joy and courage from these verses.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.Romans 8:35-39
Only through this realization we could make our humble “effort” to forgive ourselves and others. Thus, as Jesus taught us, the act of forgiveness should be one of the crucial components for the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13).
- Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
- Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
- Give us this day our daily bread.
- And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
- And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil:
- For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
After teaching how to pray, Jesus still added his comments on the act of forgiveness.
For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.Matthew 6:14-15
And, once more, he emphasized it. True forgiveness, if we could do, is like laying up for yourselves treasure in heaven. Only when and if our heart is in heaven, we could see His forgiveness. Only then, can we pray that we could do the same act through His love and grace.
Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.Matthew 6:19-21
Image by James Chan; Image by Barak Broitman