This weekend I was struggling with forgiveness in regards to processing several particularly difficult situations.
In a conversation with my spouse, he shared some Scripture and a devotional exercise. I am used to being the one leading the Bible study or devotion, so it was nice to listen and also a surprise, as he is not religious at this point in his life. Yet, we talk about God and faith quite often, and I am thankful for his perspective.
A Bible passage that has always resonated with him is the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant in Matthew 18.
21 “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’
22 Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.’
The purpose of this portion the passage is not to do math (I am thankful for that!). It’s to remind us of God’s unconditional love and forgiveness for us, the number 7 symbolizing perfection. It’s also to show us that forgiveness will be a constant part of our lives and our actions, just as we are constantly forgiven by God for each of of our sins.
23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold[h]was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
What relief he must have felt….
My spouse reminded me that it’s impossible to understand forgiveness through God’s eyes because he forgives our sins from today, from this past week, the entire month, year and decades of our lives. I can barely remember everything I did wrong yesterday, so I am humbled by the fact that God remembers everything (the good, the bad and the ugly) and yet forgives me when I have wronged him.
28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins.[i] He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.
Well, that didn’t last long. He soon forgot the mercy he had received. How easily are we forgiven and then turn around and sin again?
29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’
30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.
32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
Forgiveness is an action, but it’s rarely one to be seen or heard by others. The unmerciful servant received forgiveness for his actions, yet, did not give it to another. While often there is another person involved in giving/receiving forgiveness, it is truly a process within our own hearts.
I still remember one of the first times in my adult life where I physically and emotionally experienced God’s forgiveness. I had wronged a co-worker and felt at a loss at what to do. I was sitting at the funeral of a friend’s mom, and as the Gospel was read, tears streamed down from my face. I experienced God’s forgiveness in my heart. As I heard God’s promise of forgiveness through his son, Jesus, I knew He had set me free from that guilt.
Contemplating what forgiveness looks like, I realize it is an internal action happening within me, regardless if I hear words of forgiveness or say them aloud.
When I think about everything Christ endured for me and my forgiveness of sins, there’s absolutely no realm in which it makes sense to punish myself or others when we mess up. As I continue to grapple with forgiving myself, one of the hardest parts of this process, God’s Word reveals over and again of what Christ has done for me.