Forgiveness is not easy. Our basic instinct is typically to retreat, harbour resentment, anger and bitterness, or to take things into our own hands and to fight back. Yet, Jesus taught us to forgive in Matthew 18:21-22:
Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”
To the human and finite mind, we wish to see justice and fairness, a wrong avenged, and may I add, according to our own timeline. How is this even humanly possible?
Let us recognize that only God can forgive (Luke 5:20-26), and our being able to forgive is a choice we make, motivated by obedience to God, His command to forgive, and empowered by Him.
Let’s take a step back. Recall a time when we very much desired to be forgiven, prayed hard to be forgiven, and received forgiveness for a sin committed. We can almost re-experience that sense of immense relief and gratitude flooding our senses and it certainly feels like a huge burden has been lifted from our shoulders when we received forgiveness from our Lord.
Here we can identify with King David’s prayer of repentance and plea of forgiveness (see Psalm 51).
Have mercy upon me, O God,
According to Your lovingkindness;
According to the multitude of Your tender mercies,
Blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
And cleanse me from my sin. (Psalm 51:1-2)
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. (Psalm 51:7)
Psalm 51 records for us that King David made a plea to God for this deep spiritual cleansing – asking God to wash him, knowing that only the cleansing power of our Almighty God can make a man clean and pure. Though his sins have stained the very core of his being, the cleansing power of God can make him whiter than snow.
I am overwhelmed to think that God has fully and completely forgiven and obliterated my sins by the blood of Jesus Christ. I learn two lessons from this.
First, should I not also extend grace and forgiveness to others? It is God who forgives and it is God who enables us to do so. When we are tempted to harbour unforgiveness in our hearts, let us ask ourselves – have we so quickly forgotten the great mercy God has shown us when we needed it?
When we forgive, we experience freedom from the anger, bitterness and resentment that once caged our hearts.
Second, as much as I learn to forgive others, I should also learn to forgive myself. Sometimes, we live in the shadow of the paralyzing effects of shame and guilt, and like the prodigal son, we consider ourselves not worthy of God’s grace (Luke 15:19). These negative effects, if unchecked, can cripple us. But the Bible says that when the lost son “was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). What mattered to the father was that his son had returned to him. He ordered the servants to clothe him with the best robe, and to celebrate his return with a feast.
Let us step forward this week being confident that God has forgiven us and that we have a responsibility to respond in obedience to exercise forgiveness as a grace community.
By Dr Rebecca Ang (YCKC Bulletin 7&8 June 2014)