What’s harder to do? To ask for forgiveness or to forgive? I find myself asking my children for forgiveness all the time. For any parent, the act of going to your child and asking them for forgiveness for a specific wrong you have committed against them is surely a pride-killer. But, sometimes, I think that being in the position to forgive someone else seems to be the more difficult thing to do.
When any of my children ask me for forgiveness, and I am still trying to get my thoughts and emotions under control, a number of things go through my mind that would tempt me to withhold forgiveness.
- Do they really mean it?
- Are they just saying it to avoid the disciplinary consequences?
- They are going to do the same thing again.
- If I forgive them, they will think what they did is ok.
- They have hurt me, so now, I want them to feel it too.
Perhaps you have been in my shoes. The offender may have been your child. Or someone else. Perhaps it was a small offense that has been repeated over and over again, and you’re just tired of it. Perhaps it was a greater offense, the unthinkable and even the unforgivable. Do we ever have a right to withhold forgiveness? Can a wrong done against us be so great that we can be exempt from having to forgive the offending party?
Such thoughts may have been on Peter’s mind when he asked Jesus, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” (Matthew 18:21). Why seven? In those times, the number 7 was understood to mean completeness or fullness. But Jesus’ response was remarkable. “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:22). Peter gave Jesus a number that was supposed to be the maximum, but Jesus commanded him to go above and beyond that maximum. In other words, there ought to be no limit to our forgiveness of others.
After Jesus answered Peter, He told the parable of the Unforgiving Servant (v. 23-35). To summarize, the story was of a servant who owed a king a ridiculous sum of money, the equivalent of about 200,000 years’ wages. Facing the consequence of being sold along with his family and possessions, he begged the king for mercy. But after the king forgave him of all his debt, this servant sent another servant to prison because of a considerably smaller amount (only 100 days’ wages) owed him.
The king is God, and we are that servant. In our sin, we have incurred a debt that is impossible for us to pay back. In God’s kindness, He pardoned us from any obligation and accepted Christ’s death on the cross as the only sufficient payment. Surely there is no mistaking that we have been forgiven much. But, in our relationships with one another, people will, no doubt, offend us, and they will incur a debt with us. When we see that next to the immensely larger debt that God released us from, how can we refuse to forgive another?
“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)
(Photo credit: Wirawat Lian-udom)