I was recently in a discussion about forgiveness and unforgiveness. A friend mentioned that she had forgiven someone who did not ask for forgiveness, but things continue to happen that cause her to think she hasn't really forgiven the person. "Maybe I haven't really forgiven them," was her concern.
I think we all deal with this at some level. It is easy to imagine that once we forgive someone we move on. But the difficult reality is that forgiveness is a "gift" that keeps on giving. It is like giving your child a remote control car for Christmas. You feel really good about your decision until you realize you have to buy batteries every week.
Often times you end up forgiving someone who doesn't think they have hurt you or doesn't care that they have hurt you. When you forgive this person, it is likely that they will not have 'moved on.' So they may do things that test your forgiveness. And I think it is fair that forgiveness is tested. If forgiveness is not tested, how can we know it is real? It is easy to say the words, "I forgive" without living out true forgiveness.
So, when you have made the decision to forgive, and then the offending party continues to hurt you, you may feel like you are having to forgive again. At this point the enemy will tell you that your original forgiveness was not true or real. This may be the case. Only you know whether or not your forgiveness was genuine. But the fact that you feel like you have to forgive again does not mean you failed in forgiveness the first time... or the first 100 times. It just means that the process continues.
This is likely what Jesus meant when He was talking to His disciples about this very subject.
Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how many times could my brother sin against me and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”
“I tell you, not as many as seven,” Jesus said to him, “but 70 times seven. For this reason, the kingdom of heaven can be compared to a king who wanted to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began to settle accounts, one who owed 10,000 talents (almost $5 billion) was brought before him. Since he had no way to pay it back, his master commanded that he, his wife, his children, and everything he had be sold to pay the debt.
At this, the slave fell facedown before him and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you everything!’ Then the master of that slave had compassion, released him, and forgave him the loan.
But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him 100 denarii (about $8,000). He grabbed him, started choking him, and said, ‘Pay what you owe!’
At this, his fellow slave fell down and began begging him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ But he wasn’t willing. On the contrary, he went and threw him into prison until he could pay what was owed. When the other slaves saw what had taken place, they were deeply distressed and went and reported to their master everything that had happened.
Then, after he had summoned him, his master said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Shouldn’t you also have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And his master got angry and handed him over to the jailers to be tortured until he could pay everything that was owed. So My heavenly Father will also do to you if each of you does not forgive his brother from his heart.”
So Jesus said we should forgive an offending party hundreds of times if need be. This could get old. And it could test not only your resolve, but make you question whether or not you actually forgave the person. But the fact that you have to keep forgiving does not mean you did not truly forgive in the first place. It simply means we live in a world that is broken... even after you've done your part to fix it. And Jesus gave a number that is difficult to keep track of. This is because if you are counting the number of times you forgive, watching for that magic number where you can stop, you aren't truly forgiving. Basically, you are to lose count of how many times you forgive someone.
When a ship crosses the ocean, it does not simply set its course once and sail directly to its intended destination. The captain is constantly having to set the course. There are variable like the water, wind, etc., that affect the ship. So the course is set multiple times. This doesn't mean the original setting was wrong, or that he didn't do his job. It simply means that the journey is a process. The same is true with forgiveness.
Today as you forgive others, remember that you may have to forgive the same person multiple times. This doesn't necessarily reflect failure in your life. After all, think about how many times Christ has forgiven you for the same infraction. You wouldn't say He failed to forgive the first time, would you? You would probably say that His longsuffering in the forgiveness department is an example of His great grace and love. The same is true of those who forgive others time after time. Let's be consistent agents of grace and love today... not one-hit wonders.
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My name is David, and I want to know God more, and help other people find Him.