It is incredible the damage we do to ourself with the unforgiveness we hold on to. I am not saying that forgiveness is always easy and I would never deny that it comes at a high price but it is also necessary. Unforgiveness actually carries with it a greater price. It causes loss of sleep, joy, relationships and even salvation. It leads to bitterness, resentment, hatred and many other negative emotions. It also sets up a barrier between the unforgiving heart and God. In an age when killing 200 or more people each evening on your XBox is the norm, cultivating a forgiving heart can be a challenge. I said it last week but it is worth repeating: forgiveness is an essential part of the Kingdom of God. Without it we cannot know God.
Right on the heels of Jesus's teaching on how to deal with an unrepentant believer, Peter asks a question of Jesus concerning forgiveness. He asks Jesus how many times he should forgive his brother for sinning against him. Even according to today's standards Peter was being generous when he suggested 7 times. Most of us have a "three strikes" policy. Jesus must have shocked Peter when he gave an answer that basically meant that he should always forgive his brother. Then Jesus launched into the parable concerning the unmerciful servant. You should take a moment and refresh your memory; it's at the end of Matthew 18.
Jesus makes the need to forgive hard to ignore here. In case we didn't understand the parable he sums it up for us:
“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:35)
According to the parable it is not a matter of earning the Father's forgiveness by forgiving others but instead we are to share the forgiveness we have been given. It is like when Jesus told the twelve disciples that what they have freely received they must freely give. The way we are examples of Jesus is by allowing all the blessings of the Father to flow through us into the lives of everyone we encounter. Some of us are more like dams. The blessings come in and only a tiny trickle comes out. When we do this we stop the flow of the blessings and we will soon discover that what we were freely given has been taken away. Love, mercy, kindness, forgiveness and all the other blessings that have been lavished on us must also be lavished on others by us.
We have no options here. This is the expectation of our Father and it should be a normal reaction from us to such grace and mercy. Forgiveness is pivotal in our relationship with Jesus Christ. We cannot afford to forget what we once were and what we could easily become again. We cannot afford to forget that this forgiveness we have received was never earned but was freely given by the grace of God. People should not have to earn our forgiveness. We should never withhold it from them as a form of punishment until we think they have suffered enough. When we accepted the Father's forgiveness we also let go of any right we thought we had to exact revenge on those who come against us or are mean toward us. All we should feel toward anyone because of grace is mercy and forgiveness.
I am not trying to make light of this situation. You may have suffered terrible things at the hands of terrible people. I know I have caused more than my share of pain, hurt and suffering in this world. I dare say you probably have as well. There is not a single person reading this who is innocent of causing pain and hurt to someone else. In a crowded life, such as we all live, it is hard to avoid stepping on someone's toes or elbowing someone in the gut as we try to navigate through life. Sometimes we are responsible for greater hurts than something so simple as these. We all need forgiveness and we all need to forgive. It will come at the cost of letting go of your pain, your suffering, the blame game, your hurt, your pride; all the things that have become so familiar and sometimes make up who we have become. Some of the hardest things to let go of is the anger, bitterness and resentment; they really define us.
The thing is that everything changes, I mean everything, when the reality of our Father's forgiveness settles upon us. When forgiveness becomes more than a word and becomes an experience then things begin to let loose in our life and we have to make the choice to let them go so we can be overwhelmed by this love that births forgiveness in the depths of our heart. The reality of our Father's forgiveness is hard to grasp, especially for those who find it hard to forgive:
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:11-12)
Now because we have received it we are changed and we are capable of living it. We will be judged on what we have and have not forgiven. The servant of the Master was thrown out of the Master's house and into prison to be tortured simply because he was not willing to forgive a small debt after having been forgiven such a large debt. Perhaps our problem is we do not realize what a large debt we have been forgiven. Perhaps we do not realize all of the things we have done against God. Perhaps we think of ourselves more highly than we ought. Perhaps we need to ask our Lord to open our eyes to the reality of our sin so that we would have no doubt as to the greatness of the forgiveness that has been shown to us. After all, Jesus said that he who has been forgiven much will love much.Yes Spirit, open our eyes to our own condition in the presence of the Holiness of God so we can be reminded of what wretchedness we have been saved from and the greatness of the mercy and forgiveness that has been shown us by grace. Once we have seen it, understood it, embraced it, let's make it our mission to live it, share it, celebrate it. We will all be that much richer in joy if we live with a forgiving heart.