jail_cellWhat mixture of powerful emotions might we feel if we had lost a loved one in the Emmanuel AME Church shooting in Charleston?

What emotions have you experienced recently toward people involved in the gay marriage debate?

What has been your most recent conflict with someone?

What do all these things have in common?  They all relate to the topic of forgiveness.

As we continue our series on the Lord’s prayer, we come now to what may be its most dangerous moment.  But have courage: freedom awaits.

Matt 6:12 says

and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And yes, there are plenty of opportunities to forgive these days.  I was encouraged, challenged, and humbled after reading about the forgiveness that our brothers and sisters in Charleston demonstrated after their loved ones were murdered.

What is forgiveness anyways?

Christ gave us a helpful illustration that helps us understand this part of the Lord’s prayer.  Mat 18:21-35 records it, and it is probably one of my favorite parables because it is such a helpful concept for understanding a significant subject.  Here is a summarized and modernized form:

  1. Man owes his boss $6,000,000,000 (yes, billion in today’s money)
  2. Boss demands payment
  3. Man begs for more time to pay
  4. His boss does even better than giving time… he forgives him of the entire debt
  5. Man leaves work and finds a co-worker on the street who owes him $10,000
  6. Man physically assaults this co-worker and demands payment
  7. Co-worker asks for more time
  8. Man refuses, and has the co-worker put in prison
  9. Boss hears what the man did.
  10. Boss has the man thrown in jail for a very long time.

So, just like in the financial world, forgiveness is absorbing a debt someone owes us.  It means we release them from our justice and surrender them to God’s justice.

What if it’s hard to forgive them?

Look at Jesus.  The man without mercy in Christ’s parable was unmerciful because he forgot how big his own debt was.  And really, for a single person (rather than a country) to owe 6 billion dollars is hard to even mentally grasp.  But let’s try.  How much is $6 billion?

  • 171,000 cars or college educations (the average college debt and the average car price for 2015 are both around $35,000)
  • 30,000 nice new homes (if those homes are $200,000)
  • It’s more than the entire companies of McDonald’s, Bank of America, American Express, or Visa, makes in a year (and close to what Coke makes in a year).
  • If you were able to pay $1,000 each month toward a $6 billion debt, you would be out of debt after 500,000 years (that’s over 5,000 lifetimes)

Obviously, at least one of Christ’s points in this parable is that the debt we owe to God because of our sin is not something we could ever pay back.  When we forget that reality, it’s easy to hold resentment toward someone for their offenses to us.  Even the worst someone can do to us in this life is pennies compared to the debt we would owe God if it weren’t for the cross.

Warning Light on the Dashboard of the Soul

If that still doesn’t make it any easier to forgive, then it may be a warning light on the dashboard of your soul.  It’s very possible that the person who “just can’t forgive them for what they did to me” may have never really understood their sin against God in the first place.  If that’s you, what a tender mercy of God to illustrate it for you through letting you experience the need to forgive others.  It would be a small price to pay if it means you avoid an eternity separated from God.

Even if we truly have placed our faith in Christ but still find it hard to forgive, it could be that our understanding of the gospel is too shallow.  Meditate on the massive weight of debt we owe a holy God for our cosmic rebellion.  Think of the worst ISIS could do against your closest loved ones and you have just a hint of the just wrath God has toward sin.

Car damage vs. Mortgage

If someone sins against you on the level of 5, it’s relatively easy to overlook (Prov 19:11) or cover over (1 Pe 4:8).

What if it’s bigger?  In the parable, even the small debt was pretty big.  I mean, no one I know can easily forget about $10,000 as if it is nothing.  It requires faith.  It’s similar to car repairs after an accident.  Although it’s sizable, it’s not something we’ll be paying on our entire life.

But other offenses we suffer are different.  While they are nothing compared to our debt against God, some offenses against us leave a lifelong scar.  Perhaps we were violated.  Perhaps we were betrayed.  Maybe it was accidental but caused a catastrophic wound.  We can forgive them today, but the memory may return in a day or a month or a year and we are faced all over again with the decision to forgive.  We shouldn’t be worried if that happens… it doesn’t mean we didn’t really forgive them the first time.  It just means that we have to absorb each of the ‘mortgage payments’ on a very large debt.

It’s worth it

What benefit do we get for all this wrestling with resentment and releasing of the person from our ‘debtors prison’?  Some very amazing things…

  1. Freedom.  As Christ says in his parable, when we hold on to resentment, we are enslaved.
  2. Relationship.  Most significantly, when we’re not harboring sin in our hearts, God’s cleansing removes the wall between He and us (1 John 1:5-10).
  3. Deeper love for God.  In the final analysis, the worst we can do to each other on earth is still nothing compared to our offense against God.  And so all the grievances we suffer become little parables to help us understand God’s forgiveness more deeply.

How about you?

  • What is a memory you have that brings back resentment?
  • If you were to quantify the ‘debt’ you owed God because of your sin, what value would you put on it?
  • When has a fellow human forgiven you of a large debt (of any kind)?  (It’s a small picture of God’s forgiveness.)

If you want to experience the closeness to God and freedom from bitterness, just keep looking at Jesus.  He didn’t just write the check for our debt of sin.  He became that payment (1 John 2:1).  All we have to do is receive.