Several weeks ago, our pastor preached about forgiveness. His words have lingered with me, mulling over and over in my mind.
As with most people, I am well familiar with the Lord’s prayer and the many Bible verses talking about forgiving our brother.
“Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” Mt. 6:12
“Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” Mark 11:25
“But if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Mt. 6:15
There’s more, but you get the gist. Forgiveness is serious business.
It’s easy to blurt out the words, “I forgive you.” Perhaps, those words should be spoken with greater care. Not care to do so less frequently, but care to consider the obligation and promise that they contain.
What does it mean to forgive?
“As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” Ps. 103:12.
To forgive is to wipe the slate clean. To cast the memory as far from us as we can. To act as if the sin never happened.
When we give our word to forgive, this is what we are promising to do.
We cannot say, “Oh, I forgave so and so long ago, but what they did…” and then broadcast their sin so others know how hurt or angry we were (apparently still are) at that person’s actions. I have been guilty of this. Guilty of keeping a person’s sin tethered to a line so I can fish it back from across the sea, and wallow in its harm whenever it comes to mind, especially if another person wants to complain with me. Somehow, recalling that person’s sin against me makes me feel better about my own issues.
This is breaking my promise. And worse.
There’s a story in the Bible about a servant who owes the King a great debt, so much so that had he worked for the rest of his life he could not pay it back. When the King threatens to throw the man in prison, the indebted servant throws himself at the King’s feet, begging for another chance to pay, begging for mercy.
The King’s mercy does not stop with giving the man more time. He knows that is futile. Instead, the King wipes the slate clean. He erases the debt completely.
In his joy, the now free man, runs home to tell his family the good news. He is determined to turn over a new leaf. Never again will he allow his life to get out of control and go in debt again.
On his way home, he runs into an old friend and fellow servant. A friend who owes him money. A light must go off in the forgiven man’s head. “If my friend pays me, I will have money in the bank and be that much farther from falling into debt again myself.”
He demands payment, and when the old friend cannot pay, he throws him into debtor’s prison where he will work until every last cent is paid back.
The King hears what happened and drags the forgiven man back to the palace. His anger is fierce. Not only does he reinstate the debt, but throws his servant into prison where he will be tortured until full payment is made—in other words, for the rest of his life.
How much have I been forgiven? My debts to God can never be repayed by any effort of my own. No matter how hard I work, or how long I live. And I continue to accumulate debt with every breath I take, every sharp word I speak, every rebellious act I make.
Yet, God continues to wipe the slate clean, for the sake of His beloved Son. For my sake.
Because God has mercy on my soul.
The sin my brother commits against me may be big, it may be small. Forgiveness may be easy, it may be the biggest challenge of my life.
When I say, “I forgive,” I am making a promise not only to the person I’m speaking to, but to the One who wipes my slate clean. I’m breaking the tether so I cannot reel it back and gossip about it. I cannot hold it against my brother because it no longer exists.
My sinful self holds to bad memories and doesn’t like to let go. I need God to work His forgiveness in me. When He does, I begin to mirror who He is, I begin to live the gospel.
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” Romans 5:6
If that’s not worth smiling about, I don’t know what is.