BIBLE INSIGHTS in 500 words
Forgive Without Limits; Really?
Richard Leslie Parrott, Ph.D.
CASE STUDY: You have put up with your little brother for years. When you share a bedroom, he kept his side like a pigsty. He borrowed clothes without asking, left the car a mess, and never thought to fill the tank. Now, the two of you run the family business. You keep the books, pay the bills, and come in on Saturdays while he is coaching a Little League team. Recently, your doctor told you that you have an ulcer, and it is caused is likely to be deep-seated resentment against your little brother.
Peter is struggling with a case study of his own. He may have remembered a fisherman who cheats him in the marketplace or an irascible neighbor in Capernaum. Whatever his personal story, he questions the practicality of Jesus’ idealistic call to reconciliation and forgiveness.
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:21-22).
I was preaching on this passage forty years ago when the NIV first came into use and read “seventy-seven times.” A cantankerous took me to task, pointing out that the King James reads “seventy times seven times.” God gave me the wisdom to respond, “Have we done either; forgiving 490 times or 77 times. Indeed, have we forgiven even 7 times?”
Forgiveness without limits feels unrealistic. Psychological, emotional, and practical questions flood our minds.
- Isn’t resenting an injury a sign of self-respect?
- Can hasty forgiveness be a sign of weakness?
- If we forgive too quickly, won’t the issue just fester?
- Is forgiveness just saying the person couldn’t help herself?
- Must forgiveness always lead to reconciliation?
- Should a battered wife reconcile with a cruel husband?
- If a business partner cheats you, must you keep up the partnership?
- If you forgive a criminal, shouldn’t he still go to jail?
You can add your own questions to the list. Yet, Jesus seems to teach limitless forgiveness, “seventy-seven” times. Some things I have learned about forgiveness in three scores and five years:
- Forgiveness is a prerequisite to reconciliation, healing the relationship, but I cannot reconcile a relationship alone; the other person must partner with me. Yet, the Christian ideal remains as the impossible – be reconciled.
- Forgiveness isn’t about accepting or excusing behavior; it is about letting go of their behavior so that it doesn’t destroy my soul. This means I forgive people who don’t ask for forgiveness and don’t believe they need to be forgiven.
- Forgiveness gives the other person the opportunity to make a better choice. This is the command of Jesus to love your enemy, to bless them, to pray for them, and to do good for them (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:33).
“Forgiveness is not an occasional act;
it is a permanent attitude.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.