It seems a bit tit for tat, when we hear people say things like “I won’t forgive that person until he/she says sorry”, or “he/she deserves everything they get because of the way they treated me.” There seems to be a bit of passive aggressive spite that people exude when they are wronged, or perceive they may have been wronged. It very quickly becomes about me, my feelings, and my sense of justice, or my perception of right or wrong. We see it all the time, not just portrayed in reality television, but lived out in the full technicolour of life itself.
It’s hard to forgive when one has been seriously wronged. When the hurt is deep, and the scars persist as painful reminders, we struggle to find it within ourselves to forgive. It becomes even worse when, having offered forgiveness, the same wrong is inflicted time and time again. No matter how much we forgive, people seem intent, either directly or indirectly, to hurt us. And the more the hurt, and the greater the pain, the less inclined we are to forgive. In fact, we become so hardened that we become unable to forgive.
So you can imagine Peter’s surprise when he seeks an answer from Jesus over this specific question. “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” The number here is important. Seven is seen as the perfect number. The number that reflects complete wholeness, the holiness of God. But Jesus response is extreme. Not seven times, but seventy times seven. In other words, forgive until eternity is resolved and perfect love has conquered all things. Then he tells the parable about the need for us to reflect God’s mercy toward others, just as God has offered divine and perfect, unconditional, mercy upon us.
There is a saying, to err is human, to forgive is divine. There is no way we are truly capable of living lives of unconditional forgiveness unless we ourselves come to terms with that same unconditional forgiveness in our own lives. We need to be forgiven in order to forgive, and we need that forgiveness to be a constant flow of grace into our lives, so grace may flow from us to the lives of others. It is hard to forgive when we see the other person through our own eyes. It becomes life changing to forgive when we see him/her through God’s eyes.
We live in a world that is consumed by the individual. We are fixated on what we think is our “rights”, and what we deserve. When someone disagrees, or wrongs us, our response is to seek retribution, revenge, or recompense. We so desperately need Christians to demonstrate unconditional grace in the way they live lives of forgiveness. It begins here, in the church, and extends from here into the world. Grace is not a natural thing, and yet grace is what the world needs to experience. In the struggles we face as church right at this very time in our history, we need to abandon our militancy which asserts our “rights” to be correct, and allow God’s grace to flow freely into our society through us.