walk in the word
21Then Peter came up and said to Him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven” —Matthew 18:21-22
Before you and I can take forgiveness seriously, we have to understand what forgiveness means. Forgiveness is the decision to release a person from the obligation that resulted when they injured you. When you injure a person, knowingly or unknowingly, you create an obligation. You take something from them: their time, money, pride, or their dignity. And if you take something from your brother, then you owe him. I used to think that forgiveness meant that nobody pays. Now, I understand that if I take something from him and he forgives, actually he pays. He covers the debt. He’s the one who takes care of it.
The way I release someone through forgiveness is I pay the debt; I absorb it; I cover it; I forego what is due me. I release them from what they owe; I pay. Not unlike how, when God forgives, God pays. That’s the story of the Gospel, isn’t it?
This necessity to pay the debt is an underlying factor that makes forgiving a crisis. Since the debt was unfair in the first place; we instinctively hesitate to pay it ourselves. But our “reasons” for not forgiving all turn out to be rationalizations. If we hold out for an apology, we are missing the point that even a sincere apology doesn’t cancel the debt any more than sending a note to my bank that says, “I’m sorry I’m six months behind on my mortgage,” will cancel the debt (or the added interest!). When a person comes to us and says, “I was wrong. Would you forgive me?”—now that’s a crisis moment!
So, why is forgiving a crisis? Because for fallen creatures like you and me, unforgiveness feels like power. Forgiveness surrenders the power to “send any more bills to that person.” It “releases” them! God help us remember that the crisis is worth enduring because by releasing someone else, we also release ourselves! We’re no longer trapped in self-destructive unforgiveness!
Prayer: Almighty Father, it really hurts when people sin against me, and I can respond so poorly to it. Forgive me for holding grudges and not forgiving those whom I should. Show me the people whom I need to forgive. Help me to do this today, Lord. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
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