Forgiveness…often needed, seldom requested, rarely given. Why is that?
We need it because we, just like everyone else, are human and incapable of living blameless lives.
We don’t request it because pride keeps us from admitting we were wrong, and since we don’t expect to receive it anyway, why bother?
We don’t give it because we feel entitled. Entitled to fairness—they should suffer as much as I have. Entitled to change—they must change their ways and do better. Entitled to withhold—I’m the victim and it is my right to continue to be wounded and hold this against them.
But it may be that it is not how often we need it or how willing we are to ask for it that most limits God’s power in our lives.
It is how often we are willing to give it.
Do we base our choice to forgive upon our feelings or the motivations of the one asking?
Forgiving isn’t a responsive action, but a choice we must make. Some things come naturally, without any thought or conscious decision. We laugh when we see or hear something funny, cry when something is sad. But forgiveness isn’t a spontaneous reaction. It is always a choice.
It is our action, our choice, completely independent of the offending party or their actions and entirely our choice to make. The choice to forgive is entirely ours to make. There is no ‘if’ included in the dictionary’s definition. The word forgive means to cease to feel resentment towards the offender. It does not say ‘but only if they really mean it,’ or ‘if they have sufficiently suffered for their transgression.’
“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” (Matthew 18:21 NIV).
This verse doesn’t say if the person requests it with sincerity, or if he even asks for forgiveness in the first place. It doesn’t give guidelines for determining if forgiveness is deserved or sincerely desired. It does indicate there is potential for the offense being repeated multiple times. But the action we are to take is not determined by their request or their motivation for seeking the pardon. Interestingly, the dictionary cites one definition of forgiving as allowing room for error or weakness.
“Jesus answered, ‘I tell you not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22 NIV).
Jesus’ response to Peter’s question doesn’t involve cross-examining them to determine the status of their heart, lecturing them on why what they did was wrong or why it hurt, or threatening them with consequences if they repeat their mistake.
Yes, we feel better when the offender makes an apology we believe is sincere. But no, their sincerity is not the key to our forgiveness. Our choice is. The fact that they may not mean what they say, or that they may do the same thing again…and again and again…doesn’t dictate our ability to choose for ourselves to own forgiveness. It doesn’t mean we must accept being mistreated or to put up with the same behavior as before. Establishing boundaries with people who hurt us is not the same as choosing not to forgive them. Forgiveness is taking hold of and exercising our right to let go of those feelings of bitterness or desire for revenge.
When we choose not to forgive, we become our own stumbling block. We withhold from ourselves the peace that God intends for us. Satan wins.
We also become a stumbling block to those who are asking for, or in need of, our forgiveness. Your act of forgiveness may be the only time they get to witness the true, sacrificial, forgiving love of Christ. Again, Satan wins.
What do we base our decision to forgive upon?
We base it upon that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us to pay the penalty we owed. But understand this…He didn’t just die for us. He suffered a beating severe enough that it alone was near fatal. Then He was nailed to the cross. They didn’t hang Him up with thumb tacks or glue dots. It was with iron stakes driven through His still conscious body. Then He was raised up on the cross, held on by these iron stakes, and slowly suffocated. This is a level of horrific pain few of us will ever experience. And it was all so we could be forgiven.
And what He said was “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34 NIV).
On a scale of one to death by crucifixion, how much does it really cost you to forgive?
Be living proof of God’s love by choosing to forgive without conditions or expectations.
After all, who are we to demand any retribution at all, when our own debt has been fully paid by another on a cross at Calvary?