I’ve never met someone that enjoyed being angry. If you happen to be that someone, then I would like to know how that’s working for you. For everyone else reading this, you probably don’t want to be upset, but there’s always that one trifling aspect that impedes it: people. So often the people around us know exactly how to upset us, whether they are strangers or friends. Even Ernest Hemingway called people the “limiters of happiness.” You can be Christians or irreligious and still resonate with that sentiment. We may feel justified in our angry, frustration, or betrayal, but that is usually as far as it goes. Anger just begets more anger.
In our cultural, forgiveness is such a foreign concept that many can no longer comprehend it. For others, you may feel proud at how forgiving you are (or think you are). But in the Bible, both sentiments are prevalent in the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. In verse 21, Peter comes to Jesus, asking him how many times he should forgive someone. He even gives his own idea of seven times, which was way beyond the expectation of the culture. Yet Jesus answers him: “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22). Let’s be clear: Jesus was not saying to literally forgive seventy-seven times and then you’re done; he was saying forgive so much that you are not keeping record.
Jesus goes on to give a story of a king, who was settling debts with his servants (V.23), and one of these servants owed him ten thousand talents (V.24). Just to give you perspective on this, a single talent was the equivalent of twenty years’ wages for a worker. The servant knew he couldn’t pay; and in his own insanity, the servant begs the king for more time, believing that he can somehow pay off this absurd amount (V.25-26). In pity, the king forgives the servant for everything (V.27).
With this new horizon, you would think that the servant would now be a patron saint of forgiveness. Yet immediately leaving the king’s presence, the servant finds another worker who owes him about a hundred day’s wages. Grabbing the man, the forgiven servant demands that this man pay him everything (V.28). Although the man pleads exactly as the servant did, the servant (ironically) fails to show any forgiveness, deciding to toss the man in jail instead (V. 29-30). You can imagine that the king was not very happy about this, deciding to throw the forgiven servant into jail until he can pay his own debt (V.31-34).
As a Christian, you may see the irony in this story but fail to see the same irony in your own life. You know you need to forgive, but you still grasp onto grudges closer than anything else. You wait day after day for that friend to say sorry. Maybe they have said sorry and you still hold it against them. Maybe they have no idea they even wronged you. At the end, Christ gives us a grave reminder of forgiveness: “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” (V. 35). For Christians, the very foundation of the gospel is forgiveness. Because we have been forgiven for so much, we should be the most forgiving people in the world. That is sadly not the case for many of us, including myself.
For others, you may think you are the person who has wronged others. You can’t possibly see forgiveness: you have betrayed too many friends, hurt too many people, made those closest to you cry. Forgiveness is truly a hard thing to do, which is why we don’t think we deserve to give or receive it. When imaging the wrong we daily do to God, we should squirm in our seats. Yet even though we are so unforgivable, God gave his Son to seek forgiveness. Where we broke down the relationship, God restored through the death of his Son.
You may think you cannot forgive; you may think you cannot be forgiven. Whether you are a Christian or not, the Gospel establishes the only framework for why we forgive. You can forgive only when you realized that you have been forgiven.