When contrasting arguments are laid out it is easier to distinguish the path and outcome. When it comes to a life filled with emotions and complications, it is not always so easy. The last blog started on the adventure of trying to increase vigilance to remain on the path that leads to life.
This series of blogs is not presenting a way of living that earns salvation, but displays the path of Jesus. Jesus is the way the truth and the life, the only way to the Father and life eternal is through him. This implies the path of life placed before us through Jesus is narrow. It is walking as he does and abandoning the path of death that we walked before knowing him.
The paths before us lead us either back to death or continue us along the path of life with Christ.
The paths of forgiveness and unforgiveness like that of humility and pride split into the same two paths. Forgiveness, like humility, can be found on the way to life and unforgiveness, well you can probably figure out where that leads.
Jesus highlighted this contrast in his teaching with a parable. He went as far as to say that our own forgiveness is tied to the forgiveness we show to others. There is no wiggle room on this theme; it is life or death that lies in front of us.
Jesus then models what to do in one of his last acts on the cross with the words “forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.
Forgiveness does not keep memory of hurt. It lays no foundation on which to build future wounds or slights. In so many instances division or separation comes as a result of a build up of events. Anger at a first time offence is very rare. Usually it is triggered by memories of past wounds that are still raw, or lightly scabbed. When Jesus responds to the man saying to forgive 70 x 7 he is not telling him to start keeping a notebook with tallies of how many times he has forgiven people. Without getting into the numerical significance, although I encourage you to explore that yourself, Jesus is essentially saying to forgive infinitude.
You may have heard it said “time heals all wounds”. Whoever told you that was misinformed. Just take a look at the conflicts in the Middle East, or maybe even the current status of the American people. Time just lets wounds fester unless treated. Like a physical wound, it gets worse and infection sets in if untreated.
It is not time that heals emotional wounds, but God through forgiveness. Healing comes not from just speaking words of forgiveness but acknowledging the pain and handing it over to God. Removing the pain and letting go of any desired vengeance makes room for healing. The memory is not removed but the wound then is. In place of pain comes joy. If that person or situation is brought up in the future there is nothing to trigger, no wound to poke.
Suppression is not forgiveness. Ignoring that something happened does not take away any of the pain, but temporarily numbs us until the pain becomes unbearable down the road. Suppression is used because of the promise of time dealing with the wound on its own.
Like any infection, unforgiveness spreads. It can lead to anger, and a quickness to take offense. What could have easily been overlooked in the past becomes a new wound. Unforgiveness can lead to gossip which takes the place of productive speech and it invites others on that path to death.
Forgiveness can be an active practice through inviting God to reveal any harboured unforgiveness to deal with. A person committed to walking in forgiveness doesn’t wait for disaster, but acknowledges even a small hurt or sin done against them and quickly forgives and delivers unto the cross the wound to be nailed there with Jesus. The practice should in the end never desire another person to be set on the road to death but saved onto the path of life. Forgiveness is the practice that turns hurt into praying for those who persecute you. There is no promise of a future free of pain, just the promise of a past free of it.
23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 So the servant[c] fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
The choice of forgiveness is not an easy one. There is something inside of us that acknowledges the wrong done and recognizes the need for justice. To make matters worse, if our own health or wellbeing was attacked in the process, we may feel violated. Sometimes we feel as though withholding forgiveness is the only way to hold out for justice.
Can you imagine if God felt this way about our sin towards him? What if he responded to our sin against him in that same way? The justice of God is mercy triumphing over judgement. On the cross Jesus took upon himself judgement that we may receive his mercy. All repented sin is greeted by the mercy of God as our sin is nailed with Jesus to the cross. That which is left unrepented will meet the judgement of God. What is fascinating is Jesus tells us mercy is unavailable to those who harbour unforgiveness in Matthew 18. The parable of the servants is used to demonstrate the seriousness with which God treats unforgiveness. Our being forgiven is placed in our hands as we choose to or not to forgive others.
When it is presented this way, how could we question the significance of unforgiveness? To receive the deserved punishment instead of the forgiveness offered to us because of our own inability to forgive is a price I am unwilling to pay. It is too steep!
As we saw in the last blog, the path of life takes vigilance. On it we find the fruit of the spirit but it takes discipline to stay on it. There are influences both external and internal that try to pull us away and off the path. Regarding forgiveness, we must be quick to forgive but also be sure to expose our hearts before God to find if there is any remaining unforgiveness.
The Lord knows the capacity and timing needed. Steps on the path must be taken in order. The grace of God pulls us along revealing the next obedience. I have found after asking the question “Is there any person I have not forgiven?” the Lord doesn’t withhold but protects me until I am ready to face a past situation. I remember a moment when God dealt with my inability to receive love from others and a floodgate of memories came in accompanied by an awareness of unforgiveness. This was after years of asking this question of God regularly.
When unforgiveness is held it is like a weight pressed upon us. We can ignore the pain by suppressing the memory or hold resentment but as soon as another situation touches the previous wound it adds another weight on top of the old one. Over time that weight grows to a point of unbearable pain. That last event could be very small but because of the built up weight it causes us to lash out and end relationships. If we go our whole lives without practicing forgiveness many old wounds with stacks of weight on them will be triggered. We become fragile from a life of unforgiveness. The Holy Spirit can lead us through memories of situations and people we harbour unforgiveness against. Through forgiveness and giving God the pain, those weights are removed leaving us free to embrace any future situations fresh.
This is why forgiving 70×7 times is possible. The pain is not felt all at once as the past wounds have no bearance on the future. Imagine how many relationships could be saved if there was no build up of unforgiveness and the past wounds had no impact on the present reality!
When we forgive someone, it doesn’t snap them right back into a category of trust. When there is no repentance on the side of the other person, it gives us awareness of where they stand with God. We may very well have to practice turning the other cheek, but it is not out of blindness but obedience that reconciliation happens (if beneficial). The presence of unrepentant sin will continue to separate us after we have forgiven the other person. Our forgiveness does not cancel their need to repent, and as always sin separates us from God and others.
I was reminded by a friend this week that pursuing reconciliation between brothers and sisters in Christ is the call. At times the vulnerability of that pursuit is difficult for me. Taking another punch and forgiving again without sharing how it impacts me is easier for me than sharing the impact with the one who wounded me. I often need the reminder that God actually desires I be loved by those he has chosen to walk with me. Without pursuing reconciliation, that option is not on the table.
There was a moment in my life when I had a word from the Lord to not trust another leader. I ignored this word giving him the opportunity to create difficulties, division, and sin in the lives of the people I led. God was so gracious in healing those wounds, but it didn’t have to go as it did. There are people that are compromised by sin and lies. These people cannot be trusted. It does not mean we have grounds to withhold forgiveness, but it does mean we should withhold trust and partnership.
Forgiveness is a command and not a choice on our behalf. The decisions which follow are not always as clear. How we manage the relationship after forgiveness requires discernment, obedience and an understanding of whether the heart of the person is repentant. I am sure a future blog is in order to focus on how to navigate those relationships, but for now we need to see the clear choice of paths.
There is no option on the path to life but forgiveness. Unforgiveness will always take us on a hard turn off the narrow path and bring about disaster in our lives. As all sin does, unforgiveness takes root in the heart and spreads to corrupt everything within us.