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Religion Column

March 17, 2012

To forgive or not to forgive, that is the question

"Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors … For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." Matthew 6:12,14-15

An unforgiving spirit can have devastating personal effects. The lack of a forgiving heart is a disease of the soul, a cancer that spreads to every facet of one's being. It can bring loneliness, suicide, bitterness and anger. It manifests itself in alienation from friends, family, and ultimately God. It is a major destroyer of loving relationships, and is a key reason for despair in the world.

How do I deal with the death of a child, or with a friend who betrayed me? How do I forgive the person who murdered my friend, or my child, or my coworker? Why didn't God stop the bullet? Why did it just have to happen? We can ask questions, and wonder, and try to figure it out, and live in pain and refuse to forgive. But, I wonder, who is the real loser here? Who is the one whose life is destroyed by such pain? Don't you deserve relief?

In the model prayer, Jesus emphasized the key aspect of forgiveness as necessary for answers to prayer. He taught his disciples how our prayer relationship with God the Father is determined by how we forgive others. He warned the disciples if they did not forgive their brother, God would not forgive their sins.

So why is forgiveness so hard for many? One reason we do not forgive is the sense that we need justice. We believe the person who wronged us must pay. But the question is this: What amount would you consider as just payment for your grievous loss? How much time must be done until satisfaction is achieved? It is my observation no amount of jail time brings closure for a grieving parent whose child has been murdered. The only satisfactory payment seems to be the restoration of that child to life and wholeness. But that is not possible.

When someone maligns you and trashes your reputation, what payment gives you your reputation back? What price could you demand to satisfy that offense? It is impossible to restore what has been stolen from you, so living all your life for revenge and payment is both foolish, unfulfilling and unhealthy.

Biblical forgiveness means to release another from a debt. This is what Jesus did for the sin of the world when he died on Calvary. The Prophet Isaiah explains this in Isaiah 53:5-6: "But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His blows that ripped open His body we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, everyone, to his own way; and the LORD has caused to land on Him the iniquity of us all."

God takes the sacrifice of his son as a satisfying payment for the sin of us all, and based on that sacrifice he is willing to forgive all who will humble themselves, and come to him for mercy.

So how does God forgive us? The Psalmist says in Psalm 103:12: "As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgression from us." The Prophet says in Jeremiah 31:34b: "For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more." Not only does God get rid of our sins, but he promotes us to high favor and grace, and accepts us. Since God forgives in this way, he expects us to forgive one another in the same manner.

Jesus said, "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." Do we really want to verbalize this request? I wonder how we would fare on forgiveness? The pain may be great, the loss may be crushing, but the inability to love is deadly. Please release that one to the Savior. Realize Jesus already paid the penalty for your loss.

Let go of negative feelings toward those who have wronged you, and let God heal your heart today: "Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, loud quarreling, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you" (Ephesians 4:31,32).

The Rev. Stephen Estes is pastor at the West Davenport Free Baptist Church.

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