Religions are the highest need of mankind irrespective of one’s religious affiliation. They play an integral part in our lives. Just as our body requires food for its sustenance, our body requires the tenets of religions to provide us to the right path to God. Though these tenets may vary in the various religions, the concept of forgiveness is one of the tenets in Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, as with other religions, which I will venture to expound in my presentation.
Forgiveness can be construed as to forego the need for revenge by releasing the negative thoughts of bitterness and resentment from one who is directly or indirectly in any way wronged by another party. It is further believed that by harbouring these negative thoughts, one tends to suffer most when one chooses not to forgive. But for most, forgiveness can be a very difficult challenge. It is an innate quality or should I say, a natural instinct exhibited by us, to always protect ourselves when we are wronged.
The burgeoning act of forgiveness is a quality being nurtured from birth to death and is being played out so often in every home. From the time a child is born, he or she learns to perceive things and to act and react per his or her intellect. However, in this precocious stage of life, one tends to make mistakes and is easily forgiven by his or her parents. Even the parents, who have amassed a wealth of experience, very often make mistakes contrary to the family norms, and forgive one another for their actions or inactions.
The concept of forgiveness is very vividly promulgated by Lewis B Smedes in his book entitled “Forgive and Forget” and I quote “When you release the wrongdoer from the wrong, you cut a malignant tumour out of your inner life. You set a prisoner free, but you discover that the real prisoner was yourself”. Forgiveness, therefore, is a choice one makes through a decision of one’s will.
But forgiveness is not diametrically centred in the home alone. This theme, too numerous to mention, is vividly promulgated in Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism to name a few.
Of the many religions, Hinduism is considered the oldest religion, dating back more than 4000 years, but is considered the world’s third-largest religion. The largest being Christianity followed by Islam. One of the tenets of Hinduism is forgiveness, as with other religions.
This tenet of forgiveness is vividly promulgated in the Bhagavad Gita; one of the crown-jewels of Hindu philosophy, which is a key principle, and essential in a Hindu’s life. As per Chapter 5, Verse 6, Lord Krishna states “That the peace of God is there for those who are free from desires and wrath”.
Also in the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna says “You cannot free yourself of your own sins. I will liberate you from your sins. See, everything that we do – fasting, visiting places of worship, feeling guilty, etc, all this we do to free oneself of sins. He says, “Come and seek refuge in me”, that is His first condition. And then he says, “I will liberate you of all your sins. That is my job”.
In addition, in the Ashtavakra Gita, Chapter 1, Verse 2 states “To be free, shun the experiences of the senses like poison. Turn your attention to forgiveness, sincerity, kindness, simplicity and truth”.
Christianity also advocates forgiveness, as the bible states: “God made man in his own image, and in forgiving others, we follow in the footsteps of God who is all-forgiving”. To further corroborate this concept, in Matthew 18:21-22 Peter asked Jesus “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother, when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven”.
Also in Matthew 6:14-6 states “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men for their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” In St Luke, 6:37 it is stated “Do not judge and you will not be judged. Do not condemn and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.” And even Jesus Christ, the son of God, while being crucified on the cross said as per Luke 23:24 “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”
Islam like Judaism propagates forgiveness. As per the Qur’an, Allah is full of love and mercy and He is ever merciful and always forgiving. He accepts the repentance of those who sincerely repent and turn to him. Islam also believes that in order to gain Allah’s forgiveness, one must also forgive the one who does wrong to him or her.
Judaism also as per the Jewish bible, instructs its followers to forgive each other for any sins they have committed among themselves so that their lives on earth can be a better place to exist and coexist. If knowingly or unknowingly they have sinned against God, they participate in a holiday called Yum Kippur in asking God for forgiveness.
But while religions are advocating forgiveness, early society and society of today have taken a more dogmatic approach when laws are instituted.
Today, there are many who are incarcerated due to crimes committed beyond the norms of society. Some of these offenders are incarcerated for life without the possibility of parole. They have nonetheless rehabilitated by improving academically and accepted religions as a source of redemption. But while most of us like to believe that every human being deserves a chance at forgiveness, crimes against the norms of society can never be forgiven, but rather, face the consequences.
Religions are constantly urging us regardless of our affiliation to be better people; to transcend our mundane lives, to achieve more and to give more. They have united us. They teach us what our responsibilities are to our parents, siblings and to society; they teach us what life is all about, and how to exist and coexist in society; the basis of which lies the dogma of forgiveness, which is probably the nucleus of all religions.