Surrounded by the waters of San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz was often boasted of its high walls, double-locked doors, machine guns in the hands of the guards, and a staff that could not be bribed. It was best known as one of the most escape-proof prisons in the world. From 1933 to 1963 it served as a federal prison, and during that time twenty-six prisoners tried to escape but only five succeeded.
Alcatraz could only confine the body, but there is a worse prison than that which shackles the inner person. Sadly, it is a prison in which we place ourselves. The person imprisoned here is the one with an unforgiving spirit. The persons imprisoned for a crime usually end up with an attitude of hatred, bitterness, and desire for revenge. And these also control the life of one who will not forgive.
One day the apostle Peter came to Christ Jesus and said, “Lord how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus replied, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:21-22) It is easy to read and understand what Jesus has taught here, but it sure is hard to practice.
One of the most moving events ever witnessed on TV News, which was the embodiment of Matthew 18:21-22, was when the people from Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina forgave Dylann Roof for shooting and killing nine people during a Wednesday night prayer meeting. How difficult it must have been to forgive him.
You can be either forgiving or unforgiving. If you are unforgiving you put yourself into the prison of your own feelings and frustrations. Forgiveness brings out the best in you and frees you from the bars of hatred, bitterness, and revenge.
Charles Swindol in his book, Growing Strong In The Seasons of Life, relates the story of a young boy who lived with his grandfather on a mountain top in the Swiss Alps. Often, to hear the sound of his voice echoing back to him, he would go outside and shout “HELLO.” The canyons would reply, “HELLO...hello...hello...” Then one day after being disciplined by his grandfather he ran outside and shouted, “I HATE YOU...I HATE YOU.” The canyons responded, “I HATE YOU...I hate you...I hate you...” Even the canyons give back what they receive.
Jesus said, “Treat others exactly as you wish them to treat you...don’t condemn and you will not be condemned.” The echoes of this truth apply to the family, husband to wife, wife to husband, parents to children, children to parents. They also apply in the work place. When you want your associates to treat you with respect, dignity, and unselfishly and free from caustic comments, then you must treat them the same.
The apostle Paul wrote, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32)
We cannot find a better standard than this.