I’ve been thinking a lot about real forgiveness lately. Reflecting on the actions of thousands of Kenyan citizens during these last few months, I wonder how anyone would be able to reconcile with their neighbors and fellow citizens after such rampant brutality.
How do you trust the neighbor who betrayed you, or burned your house, and raped or murdered your spouse and family? How do you live, work, socialize, and worship with people who call themselves “christian” but participated enthusiastically in the widespread looting, burning, raping, and genocide? How do you forgive yourself for being one of those participants, or even look each other in the eyes after such atrocities? These are hard questions for Kenyans. They are also difficult questions for the rest of us.
The good news is that our God has given us all a way out of our sin.
If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)
So [the Pharisees] asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus heard them and answered, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor, but sick people do. I didn’t come to invite good people to be my followers. I came to invite sinners.” (Mark 2:16b-17)
Jesus seemed to have forgiveness down cold. He spent a lot of time talking about it, and even more time doing it, no matter how steep the challenge. Take the crucifixion for example. There he was, strung up, nailed, and almost dead by the willful violence of folks he had just spent the last three years teaching, feeding, healing, restoring, and even resurrecting. So what did he pray?
“Father, forgive these people! They don’t know what they’re doing.” (Luke 23:34)
If it had been me up there, I’d be praying, “father *you* forgive them, I’m a little too p***ed off right now!”
He’s called us to follow him, and to minister to each other the way he ministered to everyone. And we’ve chosen to follow Him, all the way to Heaven. So if he healed and forgave, and restored all those he forgave, then that’s what he calls us to do–forgive all those who wrong us, or those we wrong, and demonstrate our sincerity by healing and restoring the relationships between us.
That’s the real kicker. Even if we manage to choke back our indignation and rage over being offended, or our shame over hurting someone else and extend or ask for forgiveness, few of us are apt to “forget” anything, ever! Even Peter squirmed under the weight of that challenge.
Peter came up to the Lord and asked, “How many times should I forgive someone who does something wrong to me? Is seven times enough?” (Matthew 18:21)
Peter was keeping a list. But Jesus responded to Peter’s question with “seventy times seven” and followed that up with an example of exactly how harshly his Father would deal with believers who refused to fully forgive each other and restore their relationships. Over and over in his words and actions, he demonstrated exactly how critical forgiveness is to the life and destiny of believers. He said that an unforgiving heart, in either the offender or the one who has been offended, is a deal-breaker.
Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3:13)
If you forgive others for the wrongs they do to you, your Father in heaven will forgive you. But if you don’t forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matthew 6:14-15)
Whenever you stand up to pray, you must forgive what others have done to you. Then your Father in heaven will forgive your sins. (Mark 11:25)
Have pity on others, just as your Father has pity on you. Don’t judge others, and God won’t judge you. Don’t be hard on others, and God won’t be hard on you. Forgive others, and God will forgive you. If you give to others, you will be given a full amount in return. It will be packed down, shaken together, and spilling over into your lap. The way you treat others is the way you will be treated. (Luke 6:36-38.)