22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.[g]
23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold[h] was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins.[i] He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.
30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.
32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
I retweeted Rick Warren yesterday. He said, “To say ‘I forgive you, but I won’t forget it’ just means ‘I don’t forgive you’ ” and a friend, a God-loving friend, expressed their disagreement with the quote. Now, I love discussion and defense of either side, for as that happens I am re-evaluating what I hold, as I listen to their presentation. It’s not only fun (for me) but it is also how we believers grow. I take the iron sharpens iron seriously, and sometimes the friction caused in the sharpening process may seem a bit uncomfortable, be cause it is, but it is a good thing. Anyway… back to the topic at hand.
Forgiveness – the primary illustration in objection to the quote was that of a brother/sister committing a sin to the point of needing church discipline. Oddly enough, the passage quoted above follows an instance where Jesus dealt with church discipline. No lie! Go check it out for yourself! But there was a secondary illustration given of one who repeatedly tells something that another shared in confidence. The assumption brought to the table was that someone can forgive an offending party and still filter the relationship through the knowledge of the committed sin. For example, I could forgive them and never share a secret with them again, until they have proven themselves.
Now this brings some questions to mind:
Is this how Jesus tells us to forgive?
Can I truly say “You’re forgiven, but I will not forget.”
Does the offending party still feel reconciled, or do they get the impression that they are on a probationary period before full forgiveness can be granted?
Does this mean we overlook sin?
These are the type of questions that were raised, and seeing as this is my blog, I’m going to give you my thoughts on them.
Is this how Jesus tells us to forgive? Forgiveness is simply complex. For example, we see that there are at least two levels of forgiveness. There is a level where I am no longer angry at the offending party, yet our relationship is not restored. An example of this is God – the Prime example! Paul said God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, and now Paul is begging men to be reconciled to God. God isn’t standing with His back to us, arms folded, still hurt and slightly bitter at our sin against Him. He has lovingly taken our sin on His own back, and while we were still sinners Christ died for us. Our relationship with our Creator isn’t still broken because of Him, it’s because we (men/women) refuse to be reconciled to Him. But I would hope that it is apparent that the quote isn’t speaking of merely letting go of bitterness toward the one who has wronged you. Let me state Warren’s words again, “To say ‘I forgive you, but I won’t forget it’ just means ‘I don’t forgive you’ ” Whatever the offense may be, we understand that we are speaking to the offending party who has come to us for forgiveness; so it is not addressing the top level of forgiveness.
So how did Jesus forgive, and tell us to forgive, those who seek forgiveness? We’re told things like “turn the other cheek”, He tells us stories of a son who ruins his dads name as well as squanders ½ of his father’s life savings and is instantaneously forgiven on the spot when repented. And my favorite, we’re told that He will remember our sins no more. (a brief note about this, God is omniscient, so He doesn’t forget them in the senile sense, but God will not bring them up to us, or treat us as if we have a record.) Even in the passage, Jesus tells us a story of a man who owed a large sum of money and it was forgiven him, in other words – it was just like he never owed it. This is how Jesus forgives, and tells us to forgive.
Can I truly say “You’re forgiven, but I will not forget.”
Anyone who’s ever been “forgiven” this way knows that the forgiveness isn’t real. When we see forgiveness in Jesus, we see full restoration of relationship. There is no probationary period to see if one really merits full fledged forgiveness. In the parable of the prodigal son, the father ran to meet him, didn’t let him finish with his apology, and immediately threw a party for his returned son. There was no probationary period to see if the son was sincere. No way! He was received right back as a son, nice robe, finest food and wine, restored! Was the son’s money gone? Sure, but the father didn’t say, “Last time I gave you nice stuff you ran off… you sure you’re not going to run off once your done eating and pawn that nice coat I just gave you?” See, this is how we like to forgive, half-way. We like it because it’s safe, we’re looking out for ourselves. But kingdom work requires sacrifice and forgiveness is not cheap.
Does the offending party still feel reconciled, or do they get the impression that they are on a probationary period before full forgiveness can be granted? Imagine if God forgave us that way: “I’m sorry, Daniel, but you have sinned for the first 23 years of your life. Now I’m willing to forgive you, but I’m not going to let you into My family until you prove to Me that you’re going to stop doing those bad things I don’t like.” If you’re not completely appalled at the mere thought that God would “forgive” in that way, then there’s a chance you may not have ever experience true forgiveness.
Does this mean we overlook sin? Of course not. We are to help erring brothers/sisters so they may grow in their sanctification. But if they sin against us, individually, then it is within out power to forgive them as we are the offended party. The restoration comes as we talk with them and help hold them accountable for various things. The goal of the restoration isn’t so you won’t get hurt again, but so they may live a life that honors and images The LORD.
See, Peter thought he was being gracious, saying he would forgive a man 7 times. The significance of the number 7 was that the seventh year was the year of Jubilee – all debts were forgiven at that time, even slaves who were such due to any sort of indebtedness went free! And Jesus said, “Nu-uh, Peter, not merely seven. Forgive your brother and infinite number of sevens.” This is risky love, this if crazy silly forgiveness… this is the way God’s Kingdom forgives! Could we get hurt again by the same party we just forgave? Sure. But Jesus didn’t say, “I forgive you, but don’t think this means you can just be my friend again! I still remember what you did to Me and it’s going to take some time for you to show Me you mean business!” He didn’t even say, “I forgive you as long as you don’t do it again.” He ran to us, smothering us in kisses, sacrificing His all, clothing us with the finest, forgiving us. And we do still sin, sometimes it’s a repeat of the very thing we asked Him to forgive us for and swore we would never do again. And you know what He does after we do something like that and seek Him for forgiveness? He forgives us again!
A “forgiven” unfaithful husband who is still required to sleep on the couch isn’t forgiven.
A “forgiven” thief who’s friend refuses to leave alone with his things isn’t forgiven.
A “forgiven” gossip who is kept out of the loop of her friends isn’t forgiven.
A “forgiven” sinner who is required to change his ways to prove he means business before being restored isn’t forgiven.
For: “To say ‘I forgive you, but I won’t forget it’ just means ‘I don’t forgive you’”