Forgive. It’s a word that stirs up a lot of emotions and mixed reactions. We may think of some hurt we inflicted on others, cringing every time we remember. Maybe this word reminds us of hurtful things others did to us, and all the memories of the incidents come flooding back.
The truth is: Forgiveness is a tough topic!
Thankfully, the Bible has much to say about it. When Jesus came to earth, He taught it in unmistakeable terms.
“Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matt 5:44).
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. (Matt 18:21-22)
Jesus also had some warnings for us: “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matt. 6:14-15)
How do you feel when you hear the word “forgive”? What thoughts come to your mind? Do you remember times when you’ve been wronged? Maybe repeatedly, by the same people? Do those memories cause you to be angry or even bitter against the other party? Have they caused you to withdraw from others, to build a wall around your heart lest it be hurt again? Have you been sinned against so greatly that you find it impossible to forgive? Maybe you feel more like a super-saint because you have been wronged more than any other person you can think of, and you are quite impressed with yourself and how well you’ve toughed it out. You might even find yourself repeatedly bringing up those injustices in conversations with third parties, highlighting you as a “suffer-with-good-cheer” type of hero. The truth is, you still haven’t really forgiven.
Whatever your answer, look to Jesus. He not only taught us whom to forgive, how often to forgive, and how freely to forgive, He showed us by example what forgiveness looks like. When God watched His only Son being betrayed, captured, abandoned, tortured, mocked, stripped of His dignity, and finally killed, He could have been bitter against a lot of people. Jesus’ friends, family, the religious leaders, king Herod, the Romans, even the criminal on the cross who mocked Him. If those same sins were committed against any of us, we might consider them unforgiveable, inexcusable. But God forgave even when the offending party was not remorseful, did not see their error, and even acted against Jesus maliciously.
He leaves us another example in the pages of the Bible: when He forgives, He will never bring the offense up again – ever! Not to you, and not to others. He doesn’t brag about how often we sinned against Him and how many times He’s had to forgive us. He doesn’t hold a grudge or withdraw from us. When God forgives, He chooses to forget.
In Ephesians 4:32, Paul instructs us: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” If God, through Jesus, forgave all of us, yes, even the very people who killed Him, then we must do the same! Forgive and forget!
C.S. Lewis made a compelling statement: To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.
May we all find the courage and strength in Jesus to live out this statement, following in our Saviour’s footsteps. Forgiveness is not easy. At times, it feels more painful that the wound we suffered, to forgive the one who inflicted it. And yet, there is no peace without forgiveness.
May we find freedom and peace in the forgiveness we extend to others!