The title of this post is Peter’s question to Jesus in Matthew 18. Peter wants to know if there is a limit to how much he must forgive another person when they wrong him.
In response, Jesus says, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”
Then, Jesus tells a parable about how the “kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.” The king calls a man who owed him a huge sum of money which he could not possible repay. At first the king intends to punish the man, but the man begs for mercy and therefore the king graciously cancels all of the man’s debt.
But, then the man goes out and treats his own servants poorly. He forces them to repay him and fails to forgive their own debts, even though his king graciously forgave his debt. He acts ungratefully towards his king and does not pass on the forgiveness he himself has received. He ought to have freely forgiven his servants as he has been forgiven.
Jesus’ point is that this is what forgiveness is like. We have been graciously forgiven by our heavenly King of all our sins. We couldn’t possibly repay this debt, so God canceled the debt for us through the death of His Son. Our sins have been freely forgiven.
Therefore, we ought to freely forgive those who sin against us. We have received forgiveness, so we ought to spread this forgiveness to others.
But, we have an awfully hard time doing this.
First, we sometimes confuse forgiveness with reconciliation. It takes one person to forgive, but two to reconcile. In the case with God, He forgives us freely, but it takes repentance and faith to receive this forgiveness as our own and to be therefore reconciled to God. In the case with other people, we can forgive first, but then the other person must repent in order to truly appreciate our forgiveness for the grace that it is. The point, though, is that we can forgive the other person first and even withhold the announcement of that forgiveness until the other person repents and asks for forgiveness. Then, our forgiveness will be ready for them.
Secondly, we have a strange desire to want to hold onto our hurt that another person has caused us. It becomes almost like a monument to how we were wronged, and we have trouble parting with it. We polish it, bring it out for display, and tend it like it’s a prized object on our mantle. I don’t know why we do this; we just seem to do so. Even after we truly forgive the other person, we still have that little monument inside our hearts that we carefully curate and dredge out to view whenever we’re feeling sad or angry. And just as we’ve been hurt by others, we too have hurt others ourself, creating their own monuments of hurt within their hearts.
What’s the answer to this monumental desire to nourish our hurt? I don’t really know. I pray, though, that the Lord would take that monument from me and from all who have their own monuments; that he would redeem that hurt as well. I also pray that the Lord would truly enable us to forgive those who have hurt us and to take all that hurt away, just as he took our sins upon himself on the cross.
Ultimately, I know that in this life things will not be perfect, that we will continue to deal with sin (our own and those of others towards us), and that only at the resurrection will everything truly be made whole and right:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away (Revelation 21:1-4).
Until that time, we continue to receive the Lord’s forgiveness and pray for the ability to forgive others as we have been forgiven by him.
(Image: Pietro Perugino‘s depiction of the Crucifixion as Stabat Mater, 1482, By Pietro Perugino – The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=156193 )