BY SUE OLAFSONDIRECTOR, HOPE MINISTRIES
Peter approached Jesus and said,”Lord, how often do I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me?Up to seven times?”Jesus said to him, “Not up to seven times, I tell you, but seventy-seven times.”It’s well known that seven represents complete perfection in the bible. When Peter asked Jesus how oftenone should forgive, Peter believed seven was the perfect answer. He was looking for affirmation. ButJesus astounded him by telling him that forgiveness was to be infinite. Peter’s answer was in fact imperfect.
Forgiveness itself is imperfect. It’s easy to forgive simple slights of which an offender might not beaware, like bumping into someone’s cart in a grocery store. But it’s infinitely more difficult to forgiveoffenders of whom you had certain expectations – like family members – who may righteously believetheir actions had little or no impact. It’s also difficult to forgive someone who deliberately inflictedphysical or emotional pain. Forgiveness seems almost impossible.
But while Jesus makes it clear that forgiving from one’s heart is absolute; he didn’t say we should simplyforget the offense. It’s important to acknowledge the pain and anger. Anger is a natural human responseto injustice and hurt. And anger isn’t sinful. What you do with that anger is what morally matters, but inand of itself, anger is neutral. And it’s important to feel it. No one can move on from any offense without recognizing the hurt. But left unchecked, it can have an impact on your own mental health. That’s nothelpful. Nor is it helpful to merely accept the offense, as though it was somehow justified. Such behaviormay also lead to unaddressed anger that can come out sideways, and at the wrong people, or in thewrong situation. It can lead to resentment or contempt, and keeps you in your own emotional prison.
Jesus also didn’t say we must seek reconciliation. And we shouldn’t feel as though reconciliation is thegoal- especially if those efforts would be useless or cause even greater harm. While everyone would liketheir offender to see the error of their ways and offer a heartfelt apology so a relationship can mend, youhave no control over other people. Reconciling with someone who doesn’t admit or even recognize theirown involvement in an offense isn’t possible. You will always be angry at their denial or their refusal toaccept responsibility. And that will continue to keep you in your own emotional prison.When you forgive from the heart, you’re free. And that’s what God wants – he wants us to be free tochoose Him. Forgiveness empowers us. It empowers us to truly be happy. And that’s Jesus’ message.To truly experience God’s infinite love, we must forgive as He forgives us. For our Christian communityand relationships to truly be open to each other and to God, forgiveness is absolute.
No one is perfect and Jesus knew that disagreements and hurts would arise in Christian life. Forgivenessleads us back to love and love is not only the greatest human value – it’s also God’s.