How do You Forgive the Unforgivable?

I’ve just finished the first draft of the novelization of my feature film Over-the-Rhine (distribution plans in-the-works), a story about the hard work of forgiveness, and more.

OTR Poster2aHow do you forgive the unforgiveable? To begin with, you have to remember that, while there are unforgiveable acts, there are no unforgiveable people. Yes, tragically, a few souls have “seared consciences” (1 Timothy 4:2) and can no longer discern good from evil. But it is not possible—or necessary—for us to know for certain who those people are. It is possible—and necessary—for us to forgive. (Luke 6:37)

But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

So, how do we forgive? To begin with, we stop trying to feel like we do, and do the hard work of raw forgiveness. “Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor,” C.S. Lewis says, but rather “act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets: when you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.” (Mere Christianity)

Well, sure, but that’s only our neighbors. Right? Wrong. Jesus offers no quarter for deserters here. First, he defines neighbor as anyone who needs what we have to give (Luke 10:29-37). And then, in case we find wiggle room still, he insists we apply it to our enemies, as well: “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44)

But how?

The answer is there in his words. Did you see it? Pray. The more we pray for someone, the more real, the more human they become. And the more human they become, the harder it is to hate them.

So take the raw first steps. There’s a very good chance it will go badly. But press on anyway. As you do, your enemy will become more and more real. He will have a name. She will have a past. He or she will have made terrible choices…choices you yourself might have made if circumstances had been different. Keep praying for them. Every day.

Is forgiveness enough? Probably not. But it’s the foundation for all that follows: mercy, grace…

Maybe even love.

About mitchteemley

Writer, Filmmaker, Humorist, Thinker-about-stuffer
This entry was posted in For Pastors and Teachers, Movies, Quips and Quotes, Religion/Faith, Writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

40 Responses to How do You Forgive the Unforgivable?

  1. Forgiveness is not condoning what they did. Forgiveness is handing them over to God and wishing them well. In some instances where you will always fear that person, you do not have to go around them (esp. if they’re in prison), but you can wish them well and hope their lives will become better. In most instances, we are still around the “offender” and have to decide how to act around them. If I act “offended” all the time, it means I never let it go. If I act as though the offense never happened, our memory of it will slide to the back of our mind and we can become friends again. How liberating forgiveness is!

    Liked by 5 people

  2. Well done, Mitch! A pastor I like often says, “you can get bitter or you can get better.” That’s forgiveness in a nutshell, you may not be quite there yet, but if you’re working on it, that means you’re getting better and not bitter. Unforgiveness usually hurts us so much more than it hurts anyone else.

    Liked by 7 people

  3. Bruce says:

    Excellent post Mitch! Thank you. I especially like what Jesus tells us to do reference praying for your enemies or those with whom you’re not necessarily that fond of. In the vast majority of cases, the people who you don’t like are the people who you don’t really know. Getting to really know other people and praying for them day after day literally creates miracles, at both ends. Blessings.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Forgiveness is a decision not a feeling. I always recommend to people who struggle to forgive to throw a stone in a river or pond as a symbol of their decision.

    Liked by 5 people

  5. bostongirl13 says:

    This is a timely post for me to read. I truly needed to see this. Thank you Mitch.
    Love in Christ,
    BG ❤️

    Liked by 4 people

  6. smzang says:

    I love the CS Lewis quote!

    It is so exciting that the first draft is finished.
    Just a reminder…I want to reserve an autographed copy!!

    Liked by 4 people

  7. Why carry a burden which has no relevance. The road to the Almighty is steep so might as well travel light. What better way than to let go of things of least consequence.

    Liked by 5 people

  8. For many years I have used and taught the phrase “act as if.” If we do it long enough change happens.

    Liked by 5 people

    • mitchteemley says:

      Wise little phrase.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Exactly. Rather than letting our emotions dictate our actions, why not let our actions influence our feelings? Not just in matters of forgiveness, but even in marriage.

        “Some folks think that ‘love’ mean emotion,
        So it comes and goes their whole lives through;
        Some folks never know that when the magic goes,
        If you keep on lovin’, it’ll come back to you.
        I was so afraid we’d lose the special feelings
        And someday we’d find our love wasn’t true.
        But then God opened up my eyes and made me realize,
        Love is not what you feel, it’s what you do.”
        (from “Anniversary Song,” written for my husband many years ago. <3)

        Liked by 6 people

      • mitchteemley says:

        Love the lyrics, Ann.

        Liked by 3 people

  9. A.P. says:

    I needed this one this morning. Thank you Mitch, and thank You Jesus.

    Liked by 4 people

  10. Lisa Beth says:

    Great and always needed truths. It really is hard, esp if your wounds are long suffering. But “pray for your enemies” can be ‘Lord, open their eyes to their evil ways, grant them repentance’.

    Liked by 4 people

  11. We never stop needing to hear this, do we. It really is true that if you keep praying for your enemy, even a brick wall can give way, one brick at a time. I’ve experienced just that and it changed how I understand the journey. You have unflinchingly offered your hard wisdom – that works. Thank you!

    Liked by 3 people

  12. joyroses13 says:

    Great post and wishing you the best with the movie. Forgiveness is so important, but its definitely not easy!
    A quote I like a lot is the one about bitterness, how its like poison that we ourselves drink, hoping to kill the enemy.
    I have fought this battle alot over the past couple years as I have dealt with a sexual assault against my daughter. Its HARD when your loved ones get hurt but with God’s help I am able to forgive. I have to, I refuse to live in bitterness when there is so much JOY in this life yet to be discovered!

    Liked by 5 people

  13. Thank you, Mitch! Excellent post and one we need to read and absorb again and again. To forgive is to be more like Jesus. I appreciate your scripture connections, so we expand our understanding of who is included in this directive to forgive and your honesty in how to tackle this is refreshing. We must begin, we must press on, for Jesus has called us to forgive and because Jesus has forgiven us. P.S. My husband is the McLaughlin – but maybe your/his ancestors are connected somewhere along the line. Blessings to you and yours!

    Liked by 3 people

  14. beyondimagination25 says:

    First of all congratulation on finishing the draft of your first novel. And good luck for distributions. Excellent post. Forgiveness is the greatest act among all.

    Liked by 4 people

  15. Ann Coleman says:

    Well said! And yes, prayer and forgiveness are the first steps in treating others the way Jesus told us to. Thanks for the reminder, Mitch. Sometimes I need it!

    Liked by 4 people

  16. numrhood says:

    luke 6:12
    luke 35:54-12
    matthew 5:19
    luke 6:37
    luke 10:29-37
    matthew 5:44

    Liked by 2 people

  17. Pingback: How do You Forgive the Unforgivable? — Mitch Teemley- Forgiveness Sundays July 20, 2019 | Ups and Downs of Family History V2.0

  18. Great thought. I must ponder this.

    Liked by 3 people

  19. Some people choose eye for eye, tooth for tooth.

    Liked by 3 people

    • mitchteemley says:

      True. Many do. Which is far better than the kind of revenge killings this Old Testament law was meant to supplant. But only the law of love, expressed in the form of grace, can heal our broken world.

      Liked by 3 people

  20. lynnabbott says:

    You nailed it, Mitch! This is excellent!

    Liked by 3 people

  21. I’m excited about your novel!

    I wrestled with forgiveness for years. I considered the phrase in the Lord’s prayer: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” to mean that I wasn’t required to forgive anyone who has never repented and told me they were sorry. We need to repent, in order to have our sins forgiven by God, right? This is what I was taught. And, since the vast majority of those who have ever offended me or hurt me in any way, have never told me they were sorry, I assumed that I was justified in not forgiving them.

    Yes, I was one miserable human being, carrying all that hurt and bitterness inside.

    Then one day it occurred to me that perhaps I had this forgiveness thing all wrong. When Christ prayed from the cross: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do,” none of His tormentors had repented. They were still in the act of tormenting Him. And yet, there it was: forgiveness. For the worst crime ever!

    “Okay,” said my miserable, bitter soul. “So obviously those people who crucified Jesus did not know that they were torturing and killing the Messiah. But surely my abusers DID know what they were doing to me. Right?”

    Or… did they? The more I pondered this idea, the more I realized that only God can judge exactly how capable and culpable any human being is. Only our omniscient Creator knows the full extent of the innermost thoughts and intentions of any individual person’s heart. Only He knows everything about everyone, their background, their physical health, their mental health, their level of intelligence, and their degree of delusions. Only God can fairly judge any of us. We don’t even have the ability to fairly judge ourselves, because we lack the capacity to fully understand our own innermost, unconscious motives and thoughts.

    Finally, I began to pray for my offenders. I asked the Lord to help me see each person who has ever wronged me, through His eyes. To help me see other people — and to also see myself — the way God sees us.

    Wow. Just… wow! My eyes began to open, and I have never been the same since. And today, my miserable, judgmental bitterness is almost completely gone.

    Liked by 4 people

  22. gregoryjoel says:

    Thanks for the reminder Mitch. For a long time I thought of forgiveness as an “act”. I know now that it’s a “process”. Prayer is the key!

    Liked by 3 people

  23. Mary Jane says:

    Looking forward to watching your movie!!

    Liked by 3 people

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