Years ago I co-taught a Bible study with one of my best friends. We covered several topics (including King David's life - which led to The Wives of King David) as well as the subject of forgiveness. I think forgiveness is one of the most difficult concepts in our human existence. Why? Because when we truly see ourselves the way God sees us, when we realize we cannot meet His perfect standards, we feel a sense of lostness, a sense of futility.
And while forgiveness from God to us is of the highest importance, we struggle with the day-to-day forgiveness of people in our lives. Are you with me? Do you see it too?
I think because children are so perceptive and aware of truth, perhaps more than we are as adults, it was easy for me--in my childhood--to see myself as a sinner, as one who did wrong things. What child has never been unwilling to share? What child has to be taught to be selfish or unkind? It comes so naturally to the human psyche, that we don't even question the reasons why we have to teach children to do or be good. To share with their classmates. To not hit. To be kind instead of mean.
Children, whether we want to admit it or not, are born with that natural tendency to do wrong. We have to teach them to do right. Why is that if not for the fact that all of us are born with a nature that is tainted by the fall of man from God's grace. The fall from what was once perfect.
So forgiveness or the need to be forgiven is easily understood by a child. At least it was for me. I knew I'd done wrong things and I wanted them to be made right again. So as an eight-year-old, I wanted God to come into all the rooms of my heart and make them clean and right and filled with Him. And it was wonderful and freeing, even to a child.
But as I have grown older, I find forgiveness takes on a different meaning. During that class I co-taught with my friend, I came across the verses where Peter asks Jesus, "How often should I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Seven times?" Peter thought he was being generous to say seven because the rabbis of his day said far less. But Jesus said seventy times seven.
I called my pastor at the time to ask him about that. I knew it meant more than 490 times. Jesus wasn't asking us to count the times we must forgive. He was showing us a better way. He was showing us that forgiveness is never ending.
My pastor told me that sometimes we have to forgive the same offense over and over again. In other words, it's not that the person offends us over and over, but perhaps that one offense hurts so badly that we have to keep bringing it to the Lord and forgiving in our hearts until it no longer causes pain.
Sometimes the offense and the forgiveness to follow leaves scars. Like a beautiful table that has had nails pounded into its wood surface. You can pull out the nails (forgive) but the holes remain. Continual forgiveness can fill the holes, even smooth out the rough edges, but the imprint of the nails remains.
Let's face it. Offenses leave us scarred. But the scars don't have to hurt.
I have surgery scars that have been there for many years. In fact the scar tissue has been removed during subsequent surgeries because they were all in the same location. At the time the scarred area hurt a lot. It hurt to laugh, to stand, to get up too quickly. But over time the scars stop hurting. As with forgiveness, the memory might remain but the pain is gone.
Because forgiveness frees us. When Jesus said he came to give us life to the full, that fullness included His forgiveness for all the wrong things we've done that pulled us out of relationship with Him, with His Father. He came and died to offer us that forgiveness. It was the only way because without the shedding of blood (first from animal sacrifices, and at last in the person of Jesus, the Lamb of God) there is no forgiveness.
But once we have known God's forgiveness, He expects us to forgive those who sin against us. Those who offend us. Those who we might not like very well or who irritate us or who are mean to us or who lash out for no apparent reason. I've been the one to hold a grudge and I've been the one who has offended perhaps knowingly but most often unknowingly and I've been the one who has had to forgive an offense. Haven't we all? We would not be human if we did not have the need to forgive and be forgiven.
But aren't you glad forgiveness exists? If we could not overlook the faults of another, what misery would live inside of us? For all of us offend others at some times in our lives. And if we could never be forgiven by the God who made us, what bondage would be ours? We cannot know freedom in its truest sense without His grace, His forgiving, loving grace.
How about you? Have you been in that place where you need to be forgiven? Or perhaps you need to forgive someone who has wronged you? What holds you back from seeking to do both?
That Bible study all those years ago taught me that the memory of the offense might plague me for quite some time, but if I faithfully choose to forgive the offense over and over and over again, I gain freedom. I might carry the scars, but I won't carry the pain of bitterness. I've carried that kind of pain and trust me, it's just not worth it.