In spiritual counseling, the focus is on helping your soul, which is the only part of you that cares about being moral and pleasing God. Once you meet God and decide that you want to pursue a positive relationship with Him, your soul finds itself in the difficult position of trying to align two moral codes: its own, and God’s. Making things even more complicated is the fact that your mind and body don’t care a wit about morality, they only care about helping themselves. There are many actions and attitudes that your mind and body find very helpful which your soul finds morally wrong.
Now suppose someone does some nasty thing to you–something that you feel terribly wounded by. Your mind wants to keep you safe, and people who hurt you are not safe. Once someone does some terribly wounding thing to you, your mind will immediately label that person as a dangerous enemy. From that point forward, whenever your enemy gets mentioned or comes into view, your mind will panic. Your mind will automatically convert its intense fear of being harmed into the emotion of hate because hate is a strong, energizing emotion whereas fear is a weak, draining emotion. To prepare you for a possible attack, your mind wants to convert weak emotions into strong ones.
Now let’s say your soul wants to please God, and it has been taught that God says hating people is morally wrong. As your mind flies into its defensive posture, your soul will sense your mind’s hatred and think, “Oh no! This is wrong! God is going to be angry with me for hating! I know that person really hurt me, but God says I should be quick to forgive!”
Forgiveness is commonly thought of as an absence of hate. When people scold each other for refusing to forgive, what no one acknowledges is that for humans, hate is always a mask for fear–specifically, the fear of being harmed. No one talks about how logical and reasonable hate is. No one acknowledges that your mind scrambles to mask its fear as hate in an attempt to protect you from harm. Instead, people just lecture you for being a nasty little grudge holder, and this causes your soul to feel guilty and miserable.
As a trauma counselor, I talk with a lot of people who have had horrific things done to them in the past–things which they’ve never had the chance to face and deal with properly. When these bombs get dropped in therapy, some of my clients are quick to say “Oh, but I’m over that. I’ve forgiven him and I’ve moved on.” It’s obvious to me that they haven’t moved on at all, because they are neck deep in trauma coping methods. But while I can see evidence of how stressed out their minds are, their souls feel extremely threatened by the thought that they are failing to do the right thing, and that means being someone who can instantly “forgive and forget.”
So what’s the solution here? Well, the first thing to realize is that faking forgiveness doesn’t stop you from hating, it just hides your existing hatred under a thick layer of denial. Hate is a form of fear, and fears can’t be resolved until they are faced head on. The sooner you stop lying to yourself about how much you hate whoever hurt you, the sooner you’ll be able to get a find a real solution to your problem.
The second thing to realize is that hate is a very logical and reasonable response to being wounded. You’re not a moral failure because you are freaked out about being trounced on in life. We humans are extremely fragile, limited creatures, and fear is a natural response to us acknowledging our limitations. We fear fire because we acknowledge that our soft tissues can’t withstand extreme temperatures without becoming damaged. We fear being held under water because we understand that our lungs can only breathe air. Fear can be a very good thing: it’s like a built in alarm system that helps us identify danger so we can avoid injury. In many ways, fear is your friend. It’s a sign of intelligence: if you fear what can harm you, it shows that your mind is paying attention and learning productive lessons from your past experiences. Fear only becomes a problem when it gets blown out of proportion, or when your mind gets so rattled about something you experienced that it gets temporarily stuck in panic mode. While humans talk like being fearless is an admirable thing, to be truly fearless, you’d have to refuse to acknowledge how limited you are and pretend that nothing in this world could harm you. That’s not admirable, that’s foolish.
The Path to Forgiveness
While hate can be very energizing in a moment of confrontation, it is very taxing to your system in the long term. Remaining stalled in hate will exhaust your mind, depress your soul, and give your body all sorts of health problems. So it is definitely in your own best interests to pursue forgiveness, and this brings us to the first critical point you need to understand: you need to pursue forgiveness for your own sake, not anyone else’s.
As you get to know God better, you will discover that the moral code He encourages you to follow is actually designed to help you. God doesn’t push you towards forgiveness because He wants your enemy to feel better. He pushes you to forgive because it is the best thing for you.
God is all about facing tough truths and dealing with root causes. In your relationship with Him, He will push you to be entirely honest with Him and not try to pretend you’re someone you’re not. Contrary to what many religions will say, God doesn’t consider hatred to be a terrible sin or a moral failing. God understands that hatred is really a mask for fear, and He understands how invested your mind is in keeping you safe. He understands these things because He is the One who designed your mind, soul, and body in the first place. So when you finally admit to God that you still really hate some human who hurt you in the past, God is going to respond by saying, “Of course you do. Why wouldn’t you after what they did? I’ve been waiting for you to admit what I’ve known all along. Now that you’re ready to talk about it honestly, let Me help you deal with the pain that they caused you.”
God is a very kind and compassionate Being. In His relationship with you, He always makes succeeding with Him a very attainable goal. God doesn’t hold a bar impossibly high over your head and then scold you for not being able to reach it. We only think God acts this way when we believe the things that humans say about Him without asking God whether those things are really true.
Because God understands the negative impact hate will have on you over time, He will encourage you to pursue the goal of forgiving whoever hurt you in the past. Because God understands how logical and reasonable your fear of that person seems to you, He does not expect you to instantly get over it. It takes time to heal from internal wounds, and we need a chance to heal before our fears will subside. As our fears calm, the hate that was being fueled by those fears will fade all by itself.
True forgiveness isn’t something you can force yourself into. To get to a point of being able to really forgive someone, you need to focus on helping yourself recover. During the early stages of recovery when you’re being honest about how devastated you really feel, forgiveness will seem impossibly out of reach. But as you progress, you’ll find the option to forgive moving closer to you without you having to force it. One day, you’ll suddenly realize that you are no longer holding a grudge about the past. It’s faded away, and with it, all of the hate that was preventing you from feeling able to forgive.
When you plant flowers in a garden, you don’t focus on trying to make the seeds sprout, nor do you strain to elongate the stems and open the petals. These things happen naturally while you focus on the tasks of weeding and fertilizing and watering. In the same way, the many wonderful traits that we associate with maturity and morality quietly blossom within us as we focus on being honest with God about where we’re at and rely on Him to help us deal with our issues in positive ways.
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