You Forgive; We Forgive

Photo by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Photo by Stephen W. Hiemstra

“and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matt 6:12)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Why forgive? Why be forgiving?

The simple answer is because Jesus says so. Jesus makes a strong statement on forgiveness immediately following the Lord’s Prayer:

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matt 6:14-15)

The reasoning here is clear—we are to be forgiving people because God has forgiven us. The word for forgiveness in Greek means let go.

The Apostle Peter clarified our obligation to forgive when he asked: “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.” (Matt 18:21-22 ESV)—arbitrarily large number that fit the context of Peter’s question [1].  Jesus then goes on to tell the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matt 18:23-35).

The point is that forgiveness aids patience, healing, and redemption.

Forgiveness aids patience. Working with young children or with Alzheimer’s patients involves answering repeated questions or dealing with other annoying behaviors. We often find ourselves working with our children and our parents while we juggle other things—including our own exhaustion. If we can forgive people with special needs, then why is it so hard to forgive normal people who are just annoying? [2] A life with no regrets starts with forgiveness.

Forgiveness heals. For example, forgiveness breaks up what psychiatrists call rumination. Extreme forms of rumination occur when a psyche patient obsesses daily for years about stressful or imagined events from the past. Puffed up like that, rumination distracts the patient from normal emotional development and, subsequently, damages relationships [3]. Because we all ruminate, forgiveness heals by helping us focus on life’s daily challenges rather than on phantoms from the past [4].

Forgiveness is redemptive. The story of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, is a case in point. Just before he died, Stephen prayed: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” (Acts 7:60) Saul of Taurus witnessed and approved of Stephen’s stoning. Better known as Paul, Saul later met the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, was baptized, and became the church’s great evangelist. But Paul never forgot Stephen astonishing act of love and linked Stephen to his own call story (Acts 22:20). Were the life and ministry of Paul an answer to Stephen’s prayer?

Forgiveness is so radical, so rare, so redemptive that it reveals God’s presence among us.

[1] Alternative translations, e.g. the New American Standard version, read seventy times seven..

[2] Jerry Bridges (1996, 46) writes: “Do we see them as persons for whom Christ died or as persons who make our lives difficult?” Christ forgave even his tormentors from the cross (Luke 23:34). If he can love and forgive those who murdered him, surely we can forgive annoying people!

[3] One therapy for rumination is to redirect the patient’s focus from the negative memory to a breathe prayer, such as the Jesus prayer. The version of the Jesus prayer that I remember was: Jesus, Son of God, Have mercy on me.

[4]  Francis MacNutt (2009, 130) cites four types of healing that we can pray for including: repentance, emotional pain, physical healing, and deliverance—healing from spiritual oppression. When we forgive those who have hurt us, we not only offer them healing, we also release our own pain. Unforgiven sin plagues both parties to the sin.

REFERENCES

Bridges, Jerry. 1996. The Pursuit of Holiness. Colorado Springs: NavPress.

MacNutt, Francis. 2009. Healing. Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press.

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