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.Matthew 18:21-22 ESV
Forgiveness can be a complex issue. When someone bumps your elbow in the grocery store, you can usually forgive and forget without a moment’s hesitation. By the time you get to the store it is forgotten. Other times things happen that can take years of intense therapy to work through that ensure you will never forget. And just to be clear, there’s every shade in between as well. Dr. Robert Enright, a professor of educational psychology at University of Wisconsin-Madison, wrote, “Forgiveness is a process that takes time, patience and determination.” Sometimes the process is quick, other times excruciatingly slow, but the Bible is clear that regardless of the offense, forgiveness is expected and for at least three reasons.
First, the followers of Jesus are expected to forgive because we ourselves are forgiven by God. That’s pretty much the entire point of the parable Jesus tells immediately after Peter asks about the math. Not only have we been forgiven, but we have been forgiven for more than we will ever be owed. This is because the greater the offended, the greater the offense. That is to say, if you slap your sibling, for instance, you might get slapped in return or grounded for a day or two. However, if you slap a police officer the consequences will involve handcuffs. Slap the President of the United States and you might want to say good bye to your family first, because you probably won’t be seeing them for awhile. Same simple slap, increasing consequences. Sin is a slap in the face of God. Forgive other people because you have been forgiven so much more.
We also forgive because we are commanded to by God. Luke 6:36 says, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Pretty straightforward. That’s not an ask. That’s an order.
And finally, we forgive because if we don’t we will become bitter and resentful. Ephesians 4:26-27 says, “Be angry and do not sin… and give no opportunity to the devil.” Anger left unchecked turns into resentment which leads to bitterness and hatred. And that’s the opportunity Satan is looking for to entice you into sin. Pretty much the exact opposite of what God wants for us, right?
Jesus doesn’t say forgiveness is easy. He doesn’t say forgive and forget. He just says we need to get it done. Maybe you’re reading this and thinking about your parents’ divorce, or abuse you suffered at the hands of someone who was supposed to be safe. Maybe you were cheated on, lied to or lied about. None of that is okay and Jesus isn’t asking you to pretend that didn’t happen. He’s asking you to work through the hurt to a place where healing is real and you can move on from those moments.
There are natural, sometimes legal, and inescapable consequences to our actions. You can forgive someone and still report them to the police. Still walk away from the relationship. Still change the way you live. Don’t give the devil an opportunity in your life. If forgiveness is something you need to work on, don’t wait, start today.