"Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?"
How many times do you forgive someone until you decide that you're not going to forgive them anymore? What's your magic number? Peter's number was seven. He asked Jesus a question he had already prepared an answer for.
I think Peter's response is so spot on to how we approach forgiveness even today. We can acknowledge that God requires forgiveness of us until we are the ones that need to forgive. We put a cap on how often someone is allowed to hurt us. We know the Lord's prayer, so we may even quote the line in the prayer that says,"Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors," but do we really mean it? Do we really forgive others the way we want to be forgiven?
Jesus' response to Peter's question was a parable. Jesus tells the story of a man that owed a great debt. When the lord came to collect what was rightfully his, the man didn't have the money to pay. The lord's response was to demand that the man do everything necessary to settle his debt, including selling his wife, children and everything he owned. The man, very clearly distraught by such news, pleads for mercy and moved with compassion the lord forgives the man's debt. This same man then goes to his neighbor who owes him a lessor debt and violently demands payment. The man's neighbor can not pay him back and when the neighbor asks for mercy, the man imprisons his neighbor for failure to pay. Astonished by his lack of compassion, everyone who knows the man, reports to the man's lord what has happened. The lord then comes back furious with the man, because he couldn't extend the same mercy that was bestowed upon him, and punishes that man until he has paid off his debt. Jesus concludes the parable by explaining that this is how God will deal with us. We are to forgive others the way we wish to be forgiven.
When someone wrongs me, the last thing that I'm thinking is, "What if I was the one doing the wrong?", yet, this is what God calls us to do. When someone has lied on us, cheated us, or hurt our feelings, God is asking for us to walk a mile in that person's shoes. He wants us to consider if the tables were reversed.
I know, I know what you're thinking. What?!?! I would never, lie, cheat or hurt someone's feelings!
Not intentionally any way.
And herein lies our mistake. We color the wrongs done to us by how they make us feel and while some people are cruel and vindictive, more often than not our feelings are merely a by product of someone else's actions. Meaning we often unconsciously act inconsiderate to how it will affect the world around us.
We don't always thoroughly think before we do.
In the bigger more important things, maybe we will think a little harder before we move, but often in our day to day doing we don't think the way we behave will negatively impact the world around us.
This is an important step to forgiving like God forgives. God can see, and He knows everything so when He forgives us it's because He knows, in His infinite wisdom that we don't mean it.
We aren't God, but we are created in His image, which means we have the ability to think thoroughly about how we respond to the wrong that others do against us. Consider the next time that someone offends you, that maybe, they didn't mean it. Like God, we can choose to see the good in someone and instead of assuming that our friends and loved ones are intentionally seeking to harm us, that they simply don't know any better.
I will not say that this is an easy habit to form, but it is a habit that will bring you peace in many situations in your life. If we can learn to forgive from this vantage point we could forgive before someone even asks for forgiveness, freeing us from the bondage of pain, anger and betrayal.
This is not an easy lesson to learn, but it is a lesson that will strengthen you and your relationship with God. Learning to forgive like God forgives, is to learn to see the world through God's eyes. This can profoundly change how you interact with the world around you.
There's a song by Kevin Levar titled "A Heart That Forgives". The lyrics are a prayer to God asking for help in this area:
"I want a heart that forgives
A heart full of love
One with compassion just like yours above
One that over comes evil with goodness and love
Like it never happened, never holding a grudge
I want a heart that forgives that lives and lets lives
One that keeps loving over and over again"
My favorite stanza says:
"I wanna love like you, be like you, just like you did
Wanna walk like you, talk like you,
just like you did, Wanna be like you Jesus
Just like you Jesus Christ, I want a heart
Cuz the heart that forgives that is the heart that will live
Totally free from the pain of the past and the heart that lets go
That is the heart that will know so much freedom"
This song writer perfectly expresses both the desire to love and forgive like Christ as well as acknowledging that we can't love like this in our own strength. That God has to help us to get to this point.
I truly believe that forgiveness is one of those things that can feel impossible, but remember Matthew 19:26 says, "...but with God all things are possible"