Forgiveness is always a difficult thing to grasp. I mean, the action is really simple; one person commits a wrong towards another and the other simply says, “It’s okay.” But the emotions underlying these words are often complicated and it’s tricky to separate the right emotions from the wrong ones. For instance I could forgive someone for stealing a dollar from me, but later on I start to think about how or why they stole that dollar and all of a sudden I’m consumed with a slightly bitter rage.
Some time ago I had heard someone tell me how they thought forgiveness was a two-way street; that someone commits a wrong, apologizes, and then the one who was wronged against would forgive. Forgiveness was only possible if the person committing the wrong had sincerely apologized beforehand. And on the surface, this is very reasonable. It makes sense that if I were to truly and genuinely forgive someone of their wrong against me, it would take an apology. Depending on the degree to which they wronged against me, it might take a pretty good apology too.
But this morning’s message gave me a different perspective on how true forgiveness actually functions. Danny went through Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving servant and highlighted how Jesus doesn’t seem to give any exceptions to His difficult rule of forgiveness. Yes, there are probably many situations where withholding forgiveness is reasonable and justifiable. What Danny pointed out, though, is how Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness (just like His teaching on many different subjects) differs extremely from what is typically reasonable.
Seventy times seven isn’t to be taken literally. It doesn’t mean that we’re supposed to keep track of how many times our brothers or sisters sin against us and draw up progress reports for them as if to say, “Well this month you’ve been good, but last month was pretty bad.” It doesn’t work like that. When Jesus says to forgive them 490 times, He’s exaggerating to make a point: it doesn’t matter how many times they sin against you; you must forgive them. At times this could be an offensive thing to say. I mean if I were to tell a man who just lost his daughter to a kidnapper to forgive the man who killed her, he would probably punch me in the face. In all honesty, “forgive him” would be the last words out of my mouth.
It is scenarios like this one that left me wanting to believe that forgiveness is a two way street. I kind of zoned out to the last few minutes of Danny’s message because I was trying to reason with Jesus’ words to somehow prove that the wrong-doer must first apologize to me before I can grant him or her forgiveness. But then I caught a bit of a sentence from Danny that woke me up. He said, “Maybe some of you had a parent abandon you when you were young.” I spent a good ten or fifteen minutes looking for a situation to prove forgiveness as a give-and-take action and all of a sudden, I was proven wrong with my own testimony.
Forgiving my father was a hard thing to do. He never came knocking on my door to apologize to me for all the pain he caused by not being in my life, not even once. Knowing that he didn’t seem to want that forgiveness, I didn’t see why I should give it. When I realized who really made me, when I saw God as my real Father, I suddenly realized that I didn’t need to hold onto the bitterness towards my biological dad. Forgiving others is liberating. I realized that I couldn’t enjoy my real Father with this clamp of bitterness around my heart. In order to get rid of it, I simply needed to forgive. And once I did, there was an unspeakable amount of spiritual freedom from that point onward.
Ultimately, we still have the choice. The people who sin against us, both the major ones and the minor ones, might never want to be forgiven because maybe they never think they ever did anything wrong. And the decision is placed before us to hold that wrong against them, to never let go of what they did to us, or to forgive them of that sin and let our hearts be free. What Jesus tells us, in the end of it all, is for our good. He doesn’t teach us all these things just because He wants to see us be obedient; He teaches us these things so that we might benefit from them. Just like He died so that we might live; His teachings are given freely so that we might benefit. Even in the touchy realm of forgiveness, Jesus gives us a difficult task to do: forgive even when we don’t feel like forgiving. But I’ll say this from experience: forgiving someone who doesn’t deserve it might not feel good for a long time, but eventually there will come a day when breathing becomes deeper, smiling becomes easier, and joy becomes unrestrained. It will be in that moment when Jesus’ words ring true, that “Wisdom is justified by her deeds.”