Much has been written, spoken of, and preached about the subject of forgiveness. It’s a subject that seems to be both easily understood but also deeply complex. At one time or another we’ve probably found ourselves in the position of needing forgiveness or needing to forgive someone. Jesus makes it very plain in the Gospels that we are to forgive those who offend us (Matt 6:14-15, Mark 11:25-26). He adds in these passages that we need to forgive others so that God will forgive us.
But what about repeat offenders? If someone causes me hurt and I forgive them, what if they do it again? In Matt 18:21, the disciple Peter poses this very question to Jesus. Peter even offers a possible number of times to forgive the offender – seven. Jesus counters with a response that was probably unexpected – “up to seventy times seven”. Of course, Jesus didn’t literally mean 490 times should be the forgiveness limit (70×7), but that our capacity for forgiveness should be limitless, just like God’s capacity to forgive us. Can you imagine if God had a cosmic counter that counted down our allotment of “forgiveness chits”? We would all be quaking in our boots!
Do you have what it takes to forgive? An example of what I call “next level forgiveness” was demonstrated earlier this year in the trial of Amber Guyger, a Dallas police officer convicted of the murder of Botham Jean. During the delivery of Victim Impact statements, the victim’s younger brother, Brandt Jean, publicly stated that he forgave his brother’s murderer and expressed a desire for her to turn to Christ. He then amazingly hugged Guyger in the courtroom.
This scenario demonstrates another aspect of forgiveness. In Matthew 18:34-35, the wicked servant who refused to forgive a debt after he had received forgiveness for a debt himself was turned over to the torturers. We are warned that God will do the same to those who do not forgive. Now we know that no one will be showing up at our door to physically abuse us, so what is meant when the Word says torturers? The original Greek translation of the word used for “torturer” also uses “tormenter” in the definition. In other words, harboring unforgiveness causes us to be tormented or tortured; this can have physical and emotional manifestations outside of the spiritual implications.
If not addressed, unforgiveness will fester and hurt us. In a different scenario in Acts 8:23, Peter mentions being “poisoned by bitterness”. God is letting us know that even though we may have been wronged, by not forgiving the offender, we are in fact hurting ourselves. The offender may be blissfully going on about his/her business, not even knowing that an injury has been caused, meanwhile we are imprisoned and tortured by bitterness and resentment, caused by unforgiveness.
Here is the message – forgiveness is not so much for the offender, it is for us, the offended. It frees us from a self-made prison. God does this because he loves us enough to make us face the pain of the hurt and move through it, rather than remaining there indefinitely. It may not be easy, but it’s for our good.