Have you noticed that it seems people have big, heavy burdens on their backs? Maybe not literally, but they walk around exhausted, tired, bitter, angry, depressed, and many other things besides. It used to be that people would hide such things, but nowadays it seems like people broadcast their woes for the world to see. Why is this? What is the weight that everyone carries? I think it is a two-fold weight: the burdens of their choices, and the unforgiveness against those who’ve wronged them. Many people are, justifiably, angry at the things done to them in life. Yet, even should the person(s) who injured them get theirs, the burden never truly goes away. What is the solution? How can we be free of this crushing debt? Forgiveness. We need forgiveness, and to receive that blessed forgiveness, we need to forgive those who have wronged us. God offers His forgiveness through Jesus Christ: Jesus lived a perfect obedient life to the Father and died as our substitute and ransom for our sins. The forgiveness of God comes through the blood of Jesus Christ. BUT, the forgiveness of Christ also has a price tag: we, if we’ve been forgiven, must forgive those who’ve wronged us. C. S. Lewis said of forgiveness: “There is no use talking as if forgiveness were easy. We all know the old joke, ‘You’ve given up smoking once; I’ve given it up a dozen times.’ In the same way I could say of a certain man, ‘Have I forgiven him for what he did that day? I’ve forgiven him more times than I can count.’ For we find that the work of forgiveness has to be done over and over again. We forgive, we mortify our resentment; a week later some chain of thought carries us back to the original offence and we discover the old resentment blazing away as if nothing had been done about it at all. We need to forgive our brother seventy times seven not only for 490 offences but for one offence.” -from Reflections on the Psalms
Forgiveness is difficult, perhaps the most difficult of Christian virtues. Forgiveness does not excuse people from the consequences of their sins: far from it. Christ has forgiven us by His Sacrifice, but many of us have to bear the scars that our sins have brought upon our lives: broken relationships, broken marriages, scars from abuses of drugs and alcohol, and many other things beside these. Forgiveness DOES clean our record with the Father, though. Though we may even face jail or imprisonment for things we do here, the Highest Court (the tribunal of God, as the Apostle Paul puts it) counts us free and forgiven. Forgiveness saves us from an eternity of punishment for the crimes we commit against our designer through our constant rebellion. It cleans us up, and, as much as is possible, makes us more like Him in this life so that His refining fire will burn away all impurities in the next. But that forgiveness cannot be received if we do not forgive those who’ve wronged us.
Jesus said we must forgive someone seven times seventy times for the same transgression. In other words, if we’re counting, we’re missing the point of forgiveness in the first place. It is not to excuse bad behavior, or even, necessarily, to invite someone in to our personal circle who we know will harm ourselves or our families. It does not excuse the murderer from his death sentence, and does not excuse the thief for his crimes. It forgives the matter: debts against me are settled. I have no more claim on what they owe me, I’m going to live my life free from hating them, and even pray for the best possible outcome for them: that they know Jesus Christ, and even know Him to eternity. I hold no responsibility or debt against my enemies, I will love them, feed them, clothe them, give them something to drink, and even be kind to them and wish them well. Why? Because I myself am forgiven, and I cannot be forgiven if I do not forgive, genuinely from my heart. To close, let us look at how Jesus viewed the matter:
Matthew 18:21-35 Then 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?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.
“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”