Wise Words

"Wait on the Lord, be strong and of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart...wait on the Lord. Psalms 27:14


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Monday, March 19, 2007

To err is human, to forgive Divine

Seventy time seven. Jesus said, when asked, that is how much we are to forgive each other. Ever wonder why Jesus said to forgive that much and not seven times or seven times seven? It is because we are to forgive as God forgives. When we ask God for forgiveness, God will always forgive us, even if it is seventy times seven plus one.

What does it mean to forgive as God forgives?

When we repent and ask God to forgive us not only does He forgive us but Psalm 103:8-12 says that He is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love, He will not always accuse nor will He harbor His anger forever; He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities and 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 has he removed our transgressions from us and Jeremiah 31:34 says that He remembers them no more.

What does that actually mean that He remembers them no more?

We are human, we are not God and still many people believe that to forgive someone they must first be willing to forget. By this they mean that they must be able to dismiss from their memory the painful events that caused a break in their relationship. In other words, they need to pretend that nothing bad ever happened. Well-meaning Christians often support the "forgive and forget" model of forgiveness by appealing to God's forgiveness, as in Jeremiah 31:34. In their view, this text means that forgetting precedes forgiving. They say that if we don't forget, we can't forgive.

There is a sense, of course, in which God "forgets" our sins. Once He has forgiven us, He will never use them as evidence against us. But the all-knowing Creator can't forget things in the way that we do. Data can be erased from a computer's memory, human recollections can be blurred or erased by time and disability, but all of history is constantly before His gaze. He hasn't forgotten our sins in a historical sense, but they will never be used as grounds for condemnation. It is our sin's debt -- the rightful wages of our sin -- that God "forgets."

God doesn't expect us to wipe the sins or offenses of others from our memory. We probably wouldn't be able to, no matter how hard we try. He certainly wouldn't want us to pretend that we have forgotten things we can't forget. What He desires is that we forgive the sins and offenses committed against us (Matthew 6:14-15) the way He forgives our much greater sins against Him (Matthew 18:23-35).

It takes greater forgiveness to forgive a grievance that we remember clearly than to forgive a grievance that we have partially forgotten. Merely ignoring our memory of a grievance isn't forgiveness; it's only suppression of anger. Genuine forgiveness, like God's forgiveness, clearly sees the offense and then forgives it by withdrawing the penalty and continuing the relationship.

What if the other person does not say they are sorry and/or ask for forgiveness?

If it is such a big issue to us that they apologize and ask for forgiveness first before we are willing to give it then I guess in our hearts we do not really want to forgive. That we want to see hard evidence of another party repenting shows that we do not really want to leave room for them so that the relationship can be restored again. Since Christ has already done the reconciliation, shouldn’t we then do our best to lower the bar to make their apology easy? Instead of making it is difficult for them to say sorry?

Even if the other party never asks for forgiveness, we’ll leave the judgment to God. Also from Colossians 3:17, where the reason we submit to each other is for the sake of Jesus’ name. That alone should be our motivation to forgive.

Doing that is going to cost though — the cost is on the person who is willing to forgive and actively seek restoration of the relationship. That is probably the part that most of us find difficult to swallow. It isn’t my fault, then why is it my responsibility to sew the relationship back together? I have wrestled with that one in my own life time after time and it is very hard to swallow – sometimes seemingly impossible, but remember that what is impossible with man is possible with God. Again, like Matthew 18 has suggested, Christ is our example. It wasn’t His fault either that we rejected God and try to run our lives our own way. It cost Jesus his life to get us right with God. Thankfully, it doesn’t cost us our life, just our pride – which we can do without anyway. After all, it is one of the seven deadly sins and there is a reason for that.

Everyone messes up and everyone needs forgiveness at some point.

Why am I writing about this today? Someone whom I hold very dear as a friend had a rather rough past few days personally and lashed out and said some pretty hurtful things via email. They didn’t intentionally mean to, but were caught up in their (extended) moment. Even if that person hadn’t apologized and asked for my forgiveness I would have readily given it anyway without hesitation because they and their friendship mean that much to me. In fact, I had already forgiven them before they asked. Being able to do that with that person made me think of other people in my life that I have not extended the same grace to because they did not apologize or ask for my forgiveness for the hurt they caused me and for that I need to ask their forgiveness.

Seventy times seven plus one, plus two, plus three... As God forgives, so should we.


Laurel Wreath said...

Nic, this is a great post. One to ready weekly. I hope the person knows they hurt you, that is my biggest fear (doing something then not being aware I did something) =)

Great post a definite keeper.

Anonymous said...

I try to remember that sin is not an attack. Sin is a consequence. Sin is an expression of weakness. It is an expression of fear, doubt, confusion, and uncertainty. The source of sin is the common imperfection inherent to being human. Nevertheless, it is a difficult weakness to admit to.

Like any weakness, when someone sins, it should be responded to with a helping hand, consolation, and understanding. Weaknesses should not be forgotten and nor should sins: they should be remembered so that you can aid that other in trying times and congratulation them (though perhaps in the silence of your heart) when they overcome such tests on their own. Help them become stronger by having strength for them when they may falter.

Too often the wound caused by sin overshadows the longstanding suffering already felt by the sinner because it is more immediate and more obvious. People hide their imperfections, from others and often even themselves, so sometimes it is harder to see the shrouded wound of the sinner.

The challenge to forgive is not to discard the remembrance of the hurt a sin has caused us, but rather to replace that pain with aid and genuine pity for the sinner. To forget a sin would be to forget our common humanity, our common imperfection, our common ache. To forget sin would be to ignore God’s love which is a love for imperfect creatures that earnestly long to suffer less the pains of their own imperfection.

Jean-Luc Picard said...

Well written, as always, Nic