Can a person be too forgiving, too soft, too easy on wrongdoing? Dr. Richard Gayton would answer no—an answer which isn’t clinical, reflecting his training as a psychologist, but a gut-level response coming from a man who has every reason in the natural to hate someone.
How so? Dr. Gayton’s world began to unravel on May 27, 1987 when a man and woman posing as gardeners forced their way into the Gayton home. The couple, both drug addicts, brutally murdered his wife, Ramona, stabbing her 17 times, stole his ATM card, and ransacked the house.
But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. Matthew 6:15
Gayton’s first response was, “I want to buy a handgun! Wait until I see them in court, walk over to the defense table, and shoot them both between the eyes.” Gayton, in a move that has divided his three children, has not only forgiven the perpetrators of the murder but has actually sought to have one of the murderers released from prison.
Rage has been replaced by forgiveness, but the transformation from a hater to a forgiver wasn’t a smooth or easy one. His journey took him through dark valleys including depression, thoughts of dying, and revenge. Six months after the murder, Gayton developed a tumor, which also began to remind him of his own mortality. That’s when he began to think of the God He had known growing up. His wife, Ramona, was a daughter of missionary parents, and Gayton himself had grown up with Christian roots which had all but been abandoned.
“But I maintained a connection to God,” he wrote, telling of the spiritual pilgrimage which brought him back from the brink, “and that became critical to my recovery.” It took three years for him to deal with it, but finally he forgave—a decision which released him from the bitter hatred which had possessed his soul.
Hatred makes the victim a prisoner himself, and his hatred becomes a poison that destroys what the criminal could not do.
“You get that poison inside you,” he wrote, “and you either turn that poison into rage or you get an idea that’s bigger than murder. And for me, that idea was forgiveness.”
No, everyone does not understand—his own children included—who think that he’s taken forgiveness to an unwarranted extreme; however, he’s at peace and has begun a new outreach, going into prisons and civic groups talking about peace and forgiveness.
A final thought. Hatred makes the victim a prisoner himself, and his hatred becomes a poison that destroys what the criminal could not do. It is no wonder that Jesus talked about the seriousness of not forgiving. Speaking of those who have done wrong to you, He said, “But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14). Strong words. Simply put, if you want God to forgive you, then you had better forgive those who do wrong to you.
Is there someone in your life who has hurt you, someone who has done wrong to you, someone whom you have grown to hate? Do you live with the thought of revenge, of getting even, of righting the score? Why not let it go? Why not forgive? It is not only God’s answer; it is the only answer.
Forgiveness is not an emotion, a warm response which you have in a season of self-pity; it is a reasoned decision which doesn’t let the offended off the hook, but puts the wrongdoer in the hands of God–which frees you of a great burden. It doesn’t say, “What you have done is OK!” Rather it says, “I will not be your prosecutor. It is too big for me. I relinquish that to God, who is far better at recompensing punishment for evil than I am.”
And that sets you free. Richard Gayton would agree. (Source: Greg Hardesty, “Amazing grace,” Register, April 4, 2003, Local, p. 1,5)
Resource reading: Genesis 45