We are half way through our class on prayer and have had five prize winners from among the people brave enough to join our discussion each week. The winners so far have been Becki, Connie, Marlene, Ginny and Kira. Remember, every time you post a comment, you earn an entry into our final grand prize drawing at the end of the class. Keep those comments coming. We love to hear your thoughts!
We’ve all seen them–those images of the family members of the victims in the Charleston church shooting confronting the killer. With tears in their eyes, one after another approached their enemy and said, “I forgive you.”
Why? How could they, just days after this man did irreparable damage to their families and lives, how could they possibly look evil in the face and forgive? Weren’t they being weak? Weren’t they simply letting him off the hook?
Forgiveness. It’s hard, isn’t it? In many cases it seems impossible. And yet, the next section of the Lord’s Prayer says this:
“Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.” Luke 11:4
But do we? Do we truly forgive everyone? And if we don’t, what effect does that have on our prayer life? Maybe the best place to start in answering this question is with a story Jesus used for teaching forgiveness. In Matthew 18: 21-22, we find the context:
“Then Peter came and said to Him, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.’”
Now you have to understand, with his offer of “seven times,” Peter was being extremely generous. Jewish religious law at the time only required one to forgive three times. But Jesus took Peter’s generosity and blew it out of the water. Then he tells this parable to explain his position:
For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, “Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.” And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, “Pay back what you owe.” So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, “Have patience with me and I will repay you.” But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. Then summoning him, his lord said to him, “You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?” And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.” Matthew 18: 23-35
In today’s culture, this story may be difficult to fully understand. Slaves and kings and talents and denarii are not a part of our daily life. So let’s take a moment to break those terms down. We have three major characters in this parable: the king who represents God and two slaves who represent us. Both slaves are debtors. The first one owes his king ten thousand talents. A talent was equivalent to a working man’s wages over the span of 10-15 years. To say this man owed ten thousand talents would be to say he owed a debt he had no ability to pay in his lifetime. In terms of the law, the king had every right to sell this man, along with his wife and children and everything he owned to recoup at least a portion of his debt. But instead, the king had compassion and forgave the debt—ALL of it. What mercy! What a picture of scandalous grace!
Then the slave, having just received this gift of unimaginable proportion, turns around and confronts his fellow slave. These men are equals—neither has a higher status than the other, except the second slave owes the first a hundred denarii. Now a denarii in those days would be the equivalent of a day’s wage. This debt was easily repayable. But when the second slave asks for the same favor the first had sought from his king, “patience,” the man responds not with the mercy he had been given, but with the full force of the law. Did the slave have a right to demand reparation? In terms of the law, yes. But in choosing the law over mercy for his fellow man, he had to accept the law over mercy from his king.
That is why God demands an attitude of forgiveness when we pray. In Matthew 11:25 Jesus told his disciples, “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions.”
If the family members of the victims in Charleston had chosen hatred and bitterness over forgiveness, they would have been guilty of the same crime as the shooter and enslaved to the same penalties of the law. Corrie Ten Boom in her book The Hiding Place put it this way: “Didn’t he and I stand together before an all-seeing God convicted of the same murder? For I had murdered him with my heart and my tongue.”
When we choose to forgive, we demonstrate a clear understanding of our own sinfulness and open ourselves up to the freedom of God’s amazing grace.
If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. 1 John 1: 8-9
GOING DEEPER (for personal study)
Many of us struggle with forgiveness. We have been deeply hurt by the actions of others and don’t have the ability or the desire to forgive them. If this describes you, take a moment to consider the following quotes. Then journal your hurt, anger, bitterness and pain in a prayer. Be honest. Tell God how you feel and let him help you in this struggle to forgive.
“In the shadow of my hurt, forgiveness feels like a decision to reward my enemy. But in the shadow of the cross, forgiveness is merely a gift from one undeserving soul to another.” ― Andy Stanley
“When we forgive evil we do not excuse it, we do not tolerate it, we do not smother it. We look the evil full in the face, call it what it is, let its horror shock and stun and enrage us, and only then do we forgive it.” ― Lewis B. Smedes
“Mercy and forgiveness must be free and unmerited to the wrongdoer. If the wrongdoer has to do something to merit it, then it isn’t mercy, but forgiveness always comes at a cost to the one granting the forgiveness.” ― Timothy Keller
DISCUSSION (please share your answer with all of us by leaving a reply we all can read.)
Here’s another quote to consider: “I can forgive, but I cannot forget, is only another way of saying, I will not forgive. Forgiveness ought to be like a cancelled note – torn in two, and burned up, so that it never can be shown against one.” —Henry Ward Beecher
Do you agree or disagree? There is no right or wrong answer to this, I simply want to hear your thoughts.