In Matthew 18:21-22, Peter comes to Jesus and asked, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
Jesus makes it clear that, in the great economy of the Kingdom of God, forgiveness is not an option. In fact, in the parable that Jesus tells following Peter’s question, we see that God’s forgiveness of us is inextricably and uncomfortably tied to our forgiveness of others.
Scripture has plenty to say about forgiveness:
· In Mark 11:25-26 Jesus says, "Whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses."
· Paul in Ephesians 4 writes, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.”
· And, of course, in our beloved Lord’s Prayer given us in both Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels, Jesus prays, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” How Jesus’ words would have been understood in its original context is that God forgives us in proportion to our forgiveness of others. And if that is not uncomfortably clear enough, Matthew records Jesus driving this point home with these words, “14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matt 6)
Jesus should have our undivided attention on this issue. The bottom line is that Jesus is telling us that we cannot appropriate the mercy, compassion and forgiveness of God if we ourselves do not choose to extend mercy, compassion and forgiveness to others;
Still, we all struggle to forgive the transgressions and traumas of our lives. Unforgiveness can shape our lives, define our identity, even determine our destiny. It darkens, deadens and can even destroy our life. It morphs into bitterness, and bitterness into anger. Instead of becoming a child of God unconditionally loving those around us, we are angry and bitter.
It is helpful to be clear about what forgiveness is and is not: It is not pretending it did not happen; it is not acting like it really wasn’t all that bad; it is not turning a blind eye; it is not forgetting. Forgiving does not mean moving back into a trust relationship with the person who injured you. Although it is a prerequisite, forgiveness is not necessarily reconciliation or restoration.
Forgiveness, fundamentally, is release- “letting go of the other person’s throat,” to quote from the book, The Shack (W. P. Young). Forgiveness is giving your pain, bitterness and anger to God and trusting Him with it. Even when reconciliation is not possible, release is. Jesus on the Cross said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” True Christian forgiveness is mercy based, not justice based.
What, then, are you to do? This is where God’s Holy Spirit comes in. It is by the working of the God’s Holy Spirit in our lives that our minds, hearts and wills are transformed such that we can learn to forgive the way Jesus forgives. We think of forgiveness as an emotion, but at its heart, forgiveness is an act of the will- aligning our will with God’s will. Even when you do not feel like forgiving, forgiveness is possible- thanks be to God!
Here is what you can do?
· Through the Holy Spirit in you, seek the grace to forgive: We cannot do it out of our old, unconverted nature. If you really want to obey his command to forgive, then pray for and open yourself to Him empowering you to do so.
· Again, through the Holy Spirit in you, choose to forgive: Align your will and spirit with the will and Spirit of Jesus
· Pray for those who have transgressed in your life: Pray that God forgive them, but also pray that God will convert their heart as He is converting yours.
· Finally, ask God to forgive you: … not just for passing judgement on the other person, which in unforgiveness you are surely doing, but ask God also to forgive you for the ways you have taken on and owned your unforgiveness and carried it with you like and old worn out bag. Agreeing and clinging to unforgiveness in your heart is not your offender’s sin- it is yours.
By the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit working in us, may we learn to forgive. Father Rob