Jesus was faced with the same basic question: how do I forgive? Peter came to him one day (Matthew 18) and asked a question the other disciples were likely thinking after Jesus had discussed what to do when someone sins against you: how many times do I forgive when someone hurts me? Jesus replied that we forgive not seven times as Peter suggested (v.21) but seventy times seven times (v.22). No, he’s not saying after you’ve done it 490 times you’re okay but rather we are to continue to forgive. He then went on to share a parable about a man who was forgiven an overwhelming amount who then turned around and persecuted someone who owed him a few dollars. The king, who had forgiven the huge amount, then put this man who hadn’t extended the same grace into prison. Jesus’ point was that God cannot forgive those who have sinned against Him if we don’t forgive those who have sinned against us. That makes sense and is perfectly logical to me.
But that’s easier said than done as I was reminded by my own experience.
It’s hard to forgive, especially when someone has hurt us deeply. It effects us, it changes us, turns us into people we don’t want to be. It’s consuming, engulfing, like a firestorm overwhelming a dry forest. It’s in these thoughts though that the need and importance of forgiveness are revealed. Why do we forgive? Well if this passage drives us, it’s because God demands it us of. There’s a practical reason too. What does it give? Well we know that if we are doing what God would have us do we have peace with him which gives us joy even in hard circumstances. So we forgive to find peace but also we forgive to move on. Forgiveness is a long, steady rain on the forest fire.
How do we forgive then? First off we understand forgiveness is not forgetting. Like nails pulled out of wood that leave holes there’s a residual impact. You don’t forget. Over time the pain dulls and the hurt goes away, but the hole remains. But eventually the joy of the Lord fills the hole. It takes time and purposing to do and it also takes God. That’s why when we don’t forgive we don’t share in God’s power and so it doesn’t get better.
Also understand that forgiveness is not condoning. To forgive does not mean that it’s “okay” or that there are no consequences to actions. Think instead this way: forgiveness is a gift, often given to those who are undeserving. It’s given to release not only the perpetrator but us as well, freeing us from the prison of unforgiveness that leads to the poison of bitterness. So yes, it’s very practical and helps us find healing and peace. But that’s not the only reason. It’s not only about us. We forgive also because as we see in the parable of Matthew 18, we are not deserving of the gift of salvation. The Bible says while we were still sinners, Christ died for the ungodly (Rom. 5:8). If this is the case, how can we do any less? Given by one who has been greatly forgiven themselves, given freely, this is indeed a gift.
I did forgive (or at least I’m working on it) through the power of the Holy Spirit. That’s me. What about you? Is there someone you need to give a gift to today?