Forgiveness, again? How many times should I write about forgiveness? Well, an apostle asked a similar question to Jesus: “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:21-22) So how many times should I write about it? Well, how many times do we (meaning “I”) need to be reminded of it!?
Forgiveness is a lot easier to talk or write about when the offender is me. I want to be forgiven. It is another story when I am the offended party. Then it seems a lot harder to address this topic. Like C.S. Lewis once wrote, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive . . . And then, to mention the subject at all is to be greeted with howls of anger.”
You see, forgiveness is much easier in the abstract of asking God to forgive our sins, when in reality we do not think we have that much of which to be forgiven. We have many excuses to show we were not really so bad, and that God is actually pretty lucky to have someone so nice on His team, so humble that we even ask for forgiveness when we do not really need it.
But that is not really the issue of forgiveness. When we have an excuse, we only need understanding, not forgiveness. To forgive is to first suffer an offense and then stop blaming the offender even though he really is at fault. Let’s look at the dictionary definitions:
• to grant pardon for or remission of (an offense, debt, etc.); absolve.
• to give up all claim on account of; remit (a debt, obligation, etc.).
• to grant pardon to (a person).
• to cease to feel resentment against (e.g. to forgive one’s enemies).
• to cancel an indebtedness or liability of (e.g. to forgive the interest owed on a loan).
To understand the potential offenses God may forgive if we ask Him to do so we just need to look at the Big Ten. Not the athletes, but the Laws. (Here we use the Hebrew list; as Matthew Sleeth pointed out, “They owned the real estate first.”)
I. Do not worship any other gods but Yahweh.
II. Do not make carved images to which you bow down and worship.
III. Do not misuse Yahweh’s name.
IV. Honor the Sabbath by keeping a special day each week for spiritual development.
V. Make your parents proud of you.
VI. Do not murder (not the same word as “kill,” but that’s for another blog).
VII. Do not commit adultery.
VIII. Do not take what does not belong to you.
IX. Do not lie.
X. Do not crave a thing or person that belongs to someone else.
A lawyer once told me all the laws in all the books in all the world are simply a reflection of our inability to keep these basics. And we do not just kind of stumble into disobedience of these laws like slipping on a threshold going into a room. There is no excuse for breaking any of these, but all the volumes of all the law books all over the world reveal simply our attempts to make excuses. “I did not really lie; it just depends on what your definition of “is” is.”
A man gave another a loan of several hundred dollars to be repaid in small increments over several months. The first month the lender received a check in the mail. The second check came in the third month, and thereafter nothing. Going to a wise counselor, it was suggested he write a letter telling the debtor he was forgiven in Jesus’ name. He and the counselor thought maybe the debtor would feel so guilty he would repay the rest.
But as the lender thought about it, he realized he could not accept payment even if the man offered now. He reported to us as his friends that after he wrote the forgiveness letter the Holy Spirit convicted him that he really had not yet forgiven the debt, and was lying in the letter if he accepted the payment! When the offer of repayment came up, which the lender had expected, he humbly told the debtor he would not accept the payments. The debt had been forgiven! Look back at the definitions of ‘forgive,’ and see if this was not true.
However, what we need to understand is that forgiveness is not only for the benefit of the offender who seems to need it. Our debtor no longer owed the debt, true enough. But our lender was under great stress about ‘his’ money until he grasped that he really could forgive the debt. Once he came to understand the full nature of his forgiveness of the debt, he was the one set free. He was no longer concerned with getting ‘his’ money back, because it was not ‘his’ anymore.
So let’s not make excuses. Let’s ask for forgiveness. Better yet, offer it when it is needed because the offender has no excuse. Jesus made it clear that our acceptance of His forgiveness was contingent on our understanding of the nature of forgiveness which is only demonstrated when we forgive. He even made it a caveat in His model prayer: “And forgive us our debts, in the same way that we have forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12)
Please forgive me when we visit this topic again next week. 😉
“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” C.S.Lewis