Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seven times seventy.” Matthew 18:21-22
But what did he mean? Are we supposed to count out 490 times of forgiving someone? No. It means that we’re not supposed to just forgive and forget. Forgiveness happens over and over. Sure it’s easy to forgive when someone realizes that they’ve done you wrong, when they apologize, when no lasting harm is done.
But what about the people who disappoint you over and over again? Who don’t even realize they are doing you wrong? Who you know will never utter the words, “I’m sorry”? What then?
You can alienate them, live with anger toward them, hold on to the disappointment and resentment. Or, the hard way, you can forgive them. Over and over. Every day.
Forgiving another does not necessarily restore your relationship with them, but it does restore your relationship with God. Jesus says in Matthew 6:14-15, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
Forgiveness can remove that pit of dark anger that brews in your heart, making it hard to focus on God’s love for us. Think of it this way, “When somebody you’ve wronged forgives you, you’re spared the dull and self-diminishing throb of a guilty conscience. When you forgive somebody who has wronged you, you’re spared the dismal corrosion of bitterness and wounded pride.” Frederick Buechner
Do you have someone you need to forgive? I do. Daily, I pray, “Father, forgive her, for she knows not what she does.” Because as far as I can tell, she is completely oblivious to the pain she has caused me. She has no idea how deep she cut me with her latest act of non-compassion as I stood in the shadow of death. I had to alienate her for a time so that I could begin the work in my own heart and allow room for forgiveness. Once the dark spot on my heart had faded as I prayed daily, I allowed her back in, minimally. I am guarding my heart, but I am working diligently on forgiveness.
Now I’m not completely innocent in this relationship either. We both have to take the blame for the hurt we have caused each other over time. I don’t even like to talk much about the most recent pain that she caused, because when I do, my friends leave me feeling justified in my disappointment, which only makes it harder for me to continue in my quest to forgive.
Some days I just get tired of “the forgiveness game,” as it sometimes feels, as I have forgiven wrongs so many times only to be wounded again. But I press on, because I can’t live with the dark spot of anger on my heart. I need God’s forgiveness in my life. Forgiving another whom many would say doesn’t deserve it can enlighten you to God’s forgiveness. Because, after all, whom of us really deserves His forgiveness?