Our Love/Hate Relationship with Forgiveness

by Robert Jacobs

Forgiveness. I cannot think of another biblical topic that people both love and hate so much. On the one hand, we love to talk about how we have been forgiven by God. Just tune into any Christian radio station and you will be inundated with songs declaring the fact that our sin guilt has been removed, we have been washed white, and—to quote a modernization of a classic hymn—“our chains are gone.” Yet, on the other hand, we detest the thought of forgiving others, particularly when they have wounded us in a deep way.

Being fully human Himself, Jesus understood our proclivity to revel in forgiveness when it is lavished upon us, but to recoil when we are prompted by a situation to extend it. In fact, Matthew records Jesus teaching on this precise topic. Through the medium of parable, Jesus tells the story of a man who owed his master ten-thousand talents of gold.  For perspective, a talent in the Greek world weighed about 33 kilograms, making this man’s debt in contemporary terms approximately $12.3 billion USD. This would have been—and is today—an impossible sum for any one person to pay back. The master, however, “canceled the debt and let him go” (Matthew 18: 27).

I can only imagine the excitement, relief, and gratitude that must have washed over the man as he walked out of his master’s house…but Jesus doesn’t end the story there. As the man walked away, he bumped into another man who owed him one-hundred denarii. Again, for perspective, a denarius was made of silver and weighed about 3.24 grams, making this man’s debt in contemporary terms approximately $362 USD.

In comparison to the debt that had just been forgiven, the one-hundred denarii would have been insignificant, an amount that could have been easily paid back if given enough time. However, the servant who had been forgiven the large debt refused to show any mercy, having the man with the small debt “thrown into prison until he could pay the debt” (Matthew 18:30). It is important to note that, while in jail, it would have been impossible for the man to work, making his manageable debt impossible to resolve.

If you are like me, this complete lack of grace, this utter distain for decency, this total lack of gratitude for his own debt dissolution makes my blood boil. And, according to Jesus, this was the precise reaction of the master when he found out what his servant had done, with the master throwing the wicked servant into jail until he could pay back his insurmountable debt (Matthew 18:34).

But, in His typical fashion, Jesus turns the tables on our “righteous anger.” Just as His audience reached the pitch of indignant rage with the man who ostensibly forgot about the grace shown to him, Jesus ends the parable by saying, “this is how my heavenly father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart” (Matthew 18:35).

Wow. In one sentence Jesus moves us from white hot rage to guilt. When we refuse to forgive, we are the wicked servant. We are the ones who have forgotten that our impossible debt was completely payed. We attempt to take the benefit of God’s forgiveness, but prevent it from having any impact on the way we live our lives. May it never be!

The reality is that the gospel—the truth that we have been both completely forgiven of our sin guilt and adopted into the family of God—should impact every interaction in our life. The knowledge of our forgiveness should never be far from our minds, an ever-present factor as we calculate our actions within the confines of God’s economy of mercy, justice, and holiness.

For many of us struggling with sexual and relational brokenness, there are deep wounds that have lead us to where we are today. Many of us have been sexually violated, physically abused, emotionally assaulted, or some combination of the three, typically by someone close to us. While Jesus is absolutely not saying that we are to be a doormat for people, He is saying that we need to forgive those who have harmed us.

Although this is one of the most difficult aspects of the healing process, it is (in my personal experience) the most life changing. When we refuse to forgive people who have wounded us, it is as if there are little strings that run from our wound to the other person, creating a tension that constantly keeps the wound open and unhealed. Even after years, these soul lacerations refuse to close, allowing for more and more infection to infiltrate. This infection, in time, spreads to other parts of our lives. And, before we realize it, the infection transforms us into a completely different person.

As you reflect back on your own life, ask yourself the following questions:

Are there instances in my past where I have not forgiven?
If there are, am I willing to—in light of the forgiveness I have received from Christ—forgive them?
How can I pray for the person who hurt me? How can I attempt to understand the wounds of the other person, the brokenness that lead them to harm me?

And this last question will be the hardest, but it was for me the one that changed my heart the most

How have you, in anger, sinned against them? How have you payed back evil for evil?

Though forgiving others is much harder than rejoicing in our own forgiveness, it both demonstrates that you understand the gift you have received from Christ, as well as helps to heal wounds that have been allowed to fester for years. If you would like help processing these ideas on forgiveness, join us on the Living Hope Online Support Forums. We would love for you to walk with us as we seek sexual and relational wholeness through pursuing a more intimate relationship with Jesus.