Forgiveness to Infinity and Beyond
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times." Matt.18:21-22
When it came to repentance and forgiveness, Judaism of Jesus’ day, recognizing that repeat offenders might be insincere, drew the line at how many times a person could expect restoration and forgiveness. The law said, "If a man commits a transgression, the first, second, and third time he is forgiven. The fourth time he is not."
Now Peter, perhaps wanting to be generous, offers to forgive his brother an astounding seven times. In a biblical sense the number seven represents completeness, wholeness. Peter may wish to indicate completeness in the act of forgiveness.
But Jesus’ response extravagantly outstrips Peter’s proposal: seventy-seven times! (Or seventy times seven in some translations.) Jesus’ response soars past mere numbers to the nature of forgiveness: at the heart of extravagant forgiveness is God’s extravagant love.
Jesus asks no less than that we lavish on others the same forgiveness God graciously lavishes on us. Forgiveness is a primary way that God expresses his love for us. And He alone gives the heart to truly forgive others. We can extend forgiveness when we admit the scale of our own need for God’s forgiveness. God yearns to forgive us and wants us to do the same for others.
Forgiveness does not dismiss, condone, or excuse the hurtful thing done to us. We may not forget the wound or cease to hurt. To forgive is to choose to no longer use the offense against the one who is wounded, to release that person from our resentment and need for vengeance. To forgive is to choose to "let go."
"How is forgiveness possible?" asks writer Flora Slosson Wuellner. "Forgiveness exists already–now and eternally. We do not create it; we enter it." God is its author. When we enter His incredible love and forgiveness for us, the impossible becomes possible.
Daily work offers many opportunities to forgive. When a coworker takes credit for my idea, when someone spitefully gossips about me, when the raise bypasses me, or I am unjustly terminated. I have a choice. I can remember my own need for forgiveness and choose to forgive as God forgives me, resulting in freedom for myself as well. Or I can choose to remain bound by bitterness, unable to either accept God’s forgiveness of me or offer it to another.
To what extent must we forgive? To infinity and beyond—where we find ourselves in the midst of God’s infinite forgiveness.