The most important word
There is one word in the English language that trumps all others. It has seven letters and touches every person everywhere from time immemorial. This word reflects the character of God and at the same time the true nature of the human heart. Pretty impressive qualities for only seven letters. You can find the word in the message of Joseph's brothers when they sought peace with the brother they had wronged, in the prayer of Moses when he pleaded with God on behalf of Israel when they exchanged the worship of God who had delivered them from slavery to a calf made of gold. You hear it in David's words when he felt the crushing weight of his own guilt for his sins, in Solomon's prayer when he beseeched God at the dedication of the temple, and in Jesus' words as he hung from the cross regarding those who had put him there.
The word is forgive.
Joseph's brothers - ‘Thus you shall say to Joseph: “I beg you, please forgive the trespass of your brothers and their sin..."
Moses - Yet now, if You will forgive their sin—but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written.
David - Look on my affliction and my pain, And forgive all my sins.
Solomon - Hear in heaven Your dwelling place; and when You hear, forgive.
Jesus - “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”
In 1711 in his An Essay on Criticism II, Alexander Pope said in, "To err is human, to forgive divine." There is truth in that statement, for only God has the power to truly forgive sins.
Jesus riled the religious leaders when He told a sick person that their sins were forgiven for these leaders recognized that only God held that power and that right. They did not recognize that Jesus as God had that same power and right.
While God holds this ultimate ability to forgive sins, in both Old and New Testaments we as human beings are also admonished to forgive others. Leviticus 19:18 says, "Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord."
And Matthew 6:15 says, "But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."
Holding a grudge is the same thing as not forgiving. And God takes it seriously enough to say that if we don't forgive, we won't be forgiven.
I don't know about you, but I've had many times in my life when forgiving someone was the hardest thing I've ever done. The pain of someone's wrath aimed at you, the rejection of someone you love, the seeming unfairness of circumstances or the mistreatment we face, real or not, are all temptations to take an offense to heart, to bear a grudge. To not forgive.
But so many things happen when we choose not to forgive others. Our prayers go unheard. Our hearts grow bitter. Our relationships sour.
Unanswered prayers make God seem distant. Bitterness leads to hate. Relationships shatter, sometimes to the point they can never be mended.
Peter asked Jesus one day, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”
Stop and think about that. If someone repeats the same offense to us, seven times seems like a lot, doesn't it? And yet, Jesus said, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven."
That does not mean we keep count or stop at 490 times. For if we keep a record of wrongs, we aren't really forgiving, are we?
I wonder how I would fare if God kept a record of my wrongs and said, "You've hit 500 times for this same offense, I've run out of mercy." Aren't you glad God isn't like that? His mercies are new every morning!
All because it is within His character to forgive. But forgiveness comes with a cost. And an admission.
More on that to come.