DayBreaks for 5/03/17: The Problem With Forgiveness
From the DayBreaks archive, May 2007:
You remember the well-known passage that talks about forgiveness and how Peter (bless his heart) came to the Lord (after probably being hurt by someone) with the question recorded in Matthew 18:21-22 – Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times? Jesus answered, I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
We struggle with forgiveness, don’t we? Who among us hasn’t wanted to ask the same question as Peter? “But God, you just don’t understand that Ed has hurt me so many times! I just can’t forgive him again!” After some time and repeated hurtings, there is just something inside of us that says, “Enough! No more! I’m not going to forgive you any more!” From a human standpoint, it does seem that there should be some limit. But God’s ways are not designed from a human standpoint.
Why do we have so much trouble forgiving? Because we’ve been hurt. We feel used and abused. We feel like we’ve been stomped on – again. Our heart – our emotions – are involved. And here is the truth that hurts – we want to hurt back. That’s why we don’t want to have to go on forgiving forever. We want the person who hurt us to hurt in return so they’ll know what it feels like. And we want to sit and watch with glee when they “get theirs”! I wish I could say that it was something noble like wanting justice (which may be the case sometimes), but I’m afraid that more often than not we just want to see the other person suffer like they’ve made us suffer.
Jesus’ response is stunning. Essentially he tells Peter, “Stop counting. You just keep on forgiving. Never hold grudges.” The rabbis (based on a pattern seen in Amos 1:3, 6, 9, etc.) held that forgiveness should be extended 3 times for a given sin but not a fourth time, so Peter may have felt he was being generous by doubling what was considered acceptable. Jesus then told a parable about a servant being forgiven a huge debt and then he went out and tortured those who owed him a little. The point is clear: how can we, who have been forgiven so much, be so quick and anxious and brutal to those who have wronged us and need our forgiveness?
The key is in Matthew 18:35 where Jesus says: This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother FROM YOUR HEART. The problem we have is that we forgive with our heads, but not our hearts. Our emotions get the better of us. We submit with the mind, but not with the heart. We are quick to appreciate intellectually what God has done for us, but we aren’t so good at translating that into what we should do for others.
The American Indians had a practice of “counting coup” on their enemies. It involved hitting them after they’d captured or killed one of them. It showed superiority and proclaimed “victory”. Are you counting coup by not forgiving? Is your spirit too prideful to act towards others like God, through Christ, has acted towards you? I’m sure Peter was stunned and humbled by Christ’s words. I pray that we will be, too.
PRAYER: Lord, we have so many things that we need to forgive and move on with life! Help us to forgive FROM THE HEART, not from our heads. Thank you that you have forgiven us so completely and so generously. Make us like you in our forgiveness! In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Copyright 2017 by Galen Dalrymple.