We have all been there. Someone has let you down. Someone has hurt you. Someone has done something to you that is very offensive, maybe even criminal.
And you are called on to forgive them.
Who “calls” on you to forgive these people?
The Old Testament has many examples of forgiveness: God’s self-description to Moses [Exodus 34:6-7], the psalmist proclaiming “With you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared” [130:4]. Isaiah talks about remembering sins no more in 43:25 and Daniel prayed “The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against Him” [9:9]. The Jewish people knew the meaning of the phrase “To err is human; but to forgive, divine.”
Jesus is “the embodiment” of God’s forgiveness. God sent His Son to earth to serve as a ransom for sinners. The Christian Gospel is essentially a message of forgiveness. The Apostles preached repentance and forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name. Peter’s message in Acts 10:43 is “Everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name.”
As Christians we are recipients of forgiveness but Christ asks us to forgive others. The message could not be any more clear than the words Paul wrote: “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” [Collosians 3:13].
What should be our motivation to forgive others? We are grateful.
What are we showing the world when we forgive others? We are showing mercy.
What are we saying about ourselves when we forgive others? We are showing others that we are aware of our own shortcomings.
None of us is perfect. We all sin. We are all in need of forgiveness.
That still does not make it easy. If the offense that is brought against you is very hurtful, it is hard to forgive. I think about the Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The church has been in the news lately as the young man who killed nine African-American members [including the pastor] has recently been sentenced for the crime. Several members of the church confronted the young man in jail to tell him they forgave him of the offense.
Some cannot do that. They hold their forgiveness back, maybe as a sign that they are hurting, maybe as a feeling of power they hold over the offender. Forgiving acknowledges that we are powerless over the situation. We could not have stopped it from happening. Forgiving does do one thing that is so good for the offended; it releases the rancor and it becomes a gift that you give yourself.Bingham Hunter even goes so far as to say that “our willingness to forgive others is thus a sign of our genuine conversion” [Hunter, 143].*
Think about what Jesus said about the man who owed a lot of money to his master. Instead of appreciating his gift and extending mercy to others, he goes to a slave and demands money owed him in a much smaller debt and throws the man in prison because he cannot make payment. In Matthew 18: 32-34, the master calls the servant in and says “You wicked servant, I cancelled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” He got so angry that he turned the servant over to the jailers until he paid back his debt in full. Jesus says that this is how the Heavenly Father will treat each of us, unless we learn to forgive our brothers.
Jesus assumes that the forgiven sinner forgive others.
One of his most famous statements in the New Testament says it all: “Do not judge and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you….for with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” [Luke 6: 37-38].
Words to live by, words to heed, words that impel us to forgive…
*from his chapter “Forgiving: The Prayer for Other Sinnners”