Years ago, I was in a complicated and unpleasant work situation with one of my coworkers. Things didn’t improve, and I was relieved when he eventually moved on. Some time later, I received a short email from him with two simple words: “I apologize.”
Maybe Peter thought he was going to stump Jesus when he asked the question “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me?” He wanted a number, some quantification of when enough was enough and forgiveness was spent. Peter throws out a number, “Seven times?” “No, not seven times,” Jesus responds, “but seventy times seven!”1
The first verses in the first chapter of the book of Isaiah are terrifying! In them, God uses strong language to outline the many offenses of the nation of Judah, including oppression of the poor, corrupt dealings, and blood on their hands, which have led to their being estranged from Him. He says that their religious observances have become false and worthless, and their hearts are wicked and in rebellion to God; and as a result, they are being utterly and completely defeated by their enemies.
The Gospels describe Jesus being whipped, beaten, and then nailed to a cross. As He hung there, waiting to die, some of His last words were “Father, forgive them.”1 Forgiveness was His response to an unjust trial, being lashed by a whip with weighted strands that lacerated the skin, inflicting unimaginable pain, having spikes hammered through His hands and feet, and being left to die on the cross in agony. While on the one hand, His reaction is very surprising, it also makes perfect sense when we read what Jesus taught about forgiveness throughout His ministry. He not only taught it—He embodied it, both in His life and His death. He practiced what He preached.
My favorite taste is sour—sour candies, pickles, anything with lemon, sour cherries, you name it—I love it! Some people may prefer savory, or sweet—or the newcomer to the block, umami—but the one basic taste I’ve never found to be anyone’s favorite is bitter. I’m not surprised! In fact, the word I’ve seen most used in definitions of the word bitter is “unpleasant.”
He saved us, not because of righteous things we have done, but because of his mercy.
—Titus 3:5 NIV
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
—Matthew 5:7 NIV
Recently, I was reviewing my past, thinking about choices I made, and I began to blame others for how some things had turned out. I blamed my parents for the decisions they made that affected my childhood. I blamed my school for the insecurities I felt, and how I never felt I was perfect enough to succeed in various areas. I blamed my church for attitudes I had about God that affected my relationship with Him.
“Forgive us the wrongs we have done, as we forgive the wrongs that others have done to us.”1 The first time I heard that Bible verse, my heart hurt, and I felt so ashamed. Why? Because I knew there were people I hadn’t forgiven. Yet I really wanted God to forgive me for the things that I had done that hurt someone else.
Forgiveness is not an emotion, it’s a choice. When you make the decision to forgive, it doesn’t mean that all the hurt is gone. But once you decide that you’ll forgive, then you allow Me to work in your heart.
I’m a big fan of Mike Donehey, the lead singer of Tenth Avenue North, and host to their video journal on YouTube. He often shares how he receives inspiration for songs he has written, or funny stories that help him better understand God and His ways. One of my favorites is where he talks about how “God is not an elephant.”1 He knows this, he says, because he met him—not God; an elephant.