What does it mean to forgive?
In church yesterday our pastor talked about forgiveness. He took us to a parable Jesus told about the servant with the huge debt that his master forgave, but then that servant went out and found a fellow servant and choked him, demanding his money back. (Read the story here.) Of course, if you've read The Crimson Cord, you know that I used this parable in Gamal's character to show how it might have played out in ancient times. But the parable Jesus told was more than a story. It was meant to teach truth.
To put it in modern terms, let's look at it this way:
Suppose you stole something. Perhaps it was as small as a few office supplies or a piece of gum at a grocery store in one of those bulk bins. We justify ourselves when we think the little stuff doesn't matter. But maybe we move on to stealing music or movies or books from "free" sources and then to cheating on our taxes or lying to our neighbor. (Yeah, lying is a form of stealing because it is stealing the truth from another person.) Say our lies move us on to bigger temptations and we start flirting with a married co-worker rather than standing by our man. What if that flirting leads to sleeping with someone who is not our spouse?
Or maybe we get in over our head financially, so we find ways to get out of paying our debts. (Jesus' character had this problem and his debt got so big in today's dollars he could have owed a trillion or at least billions of dollars.) There was no way in a thousand lifetimes that he could have repaid what he owed.
When someone hurts us in one of these ways--stealing from us, lying to us, cheating on us, lying about us, etc., etc., it hurts, doesn't it? Or maybe they don't do any of these things, they just say mean things because for whatever reason they don't like us. Or we hurt them unintentionally, so they react back. Or we just happen to be in the way when that stranger takes out their anger at the store or on the road. Been there? How many cases of road rage could be avoided if we forgave instead of retaliated?
That's what the master in the parable did. He forgave a debt that was impossible to repay. Sometimes we are faced with relationships where the hurt goes so deep we think we simply can't ever forgive. But this master did so.
You would think the servant would be grateful, wouldn't you? (You would think Gamal would have been grateful too - if you've read The Crimson Cord.) And you would think I would be more grateful when I stop and remember the things God's had to forgive me for doing, saying, thinking. I'm sorry to say, I'm not always as thankful as I should be either.
This forgiven servant had a short memory or maybe he thought he deserved to be forgiven, but he turned right around and went off to collect his debts. He was probably out of cash, since he obviously had just been in debt himself, so he figured he'd get some quick. (Rather than wait for his next paycheck?) In any case, you know the story. He demands the very thing of others that he has been forgiven of in his own life. He refuses kindness and grace to others, though he has just received it in great measure.
He shows no mercy.
He refuses to forgive.
And in the end, he loses the grace he'd been given and his life is in ruins.
What was Jesus saying in this parable? Was He suggesting that if we are forgiven in Christ we can somehow lose that forgiveness? That we can lose the saving grace, the gift of life He's already given to us? As our pastor reminded us yesterday, the rest of the Bible does not support that thought. No one, not even ourselves, can snatch us out of God's hands. Our very names are written there if we are His.
But oh the pain we can suffer when we live with an unforgiving spirit! I personally think that some of the references to "weeping and gnashing of teeth" can come in this life when we allow ourselves to live with bitterness. (And I'm sorry to say, I've been there too. Some lessons are learned from living in these pits, but we sure don't want to stay there!)
The Bible tells us not to go to bed angry lest we give the devil a foothold. That means, that anger left unchecked, allowed to fester and grow, sinks its feet into our innermost being and resides there. The enemy has us right where he wants us because when we live with a bitter, unforgiving spirit, we become ineffective at showing the light of Jesus into a dark world. The light that is in us is hidden, nearly quenched, the longer we allow that unforgiving spirit to reside in our hearts.
Someone once said, "Bitterness is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die." But it is we who are the ones who are slowly dying from the poison of that bitter drink. And we hurt everyone around us that wants to love us.
So how do we forgive that person who is choking the life out of us wanting their debt repaid? Or how do we forgive that person who has done all the things mentioned above? We hurt each other so easily, don't we? And yet God extends grace with such willingness if we but ask.
Sometimes forgiveness is daily and it is always a choice. It is not always a feeling. I might not feel like forgiving someone, especially if they are not sorry and keep doing the same things. But I can keep on choosing to forgive them because God gives me the grace to do so. I can pray blessings on them. I can release my own stranglehold on them lest I end up just as bitter.
Hurt people hurt people, but it doesn't have to be that way. Jesus came to heal our hurts. He told the story to show us God's grace. And if God can be so giving to us, wouldn't we want to follow His example and do the same for each other?