A Seemingly Lost Concept of Forgiveness

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

  • Matthew 18:21-22

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

  • Matthew 6:14-15

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through.  A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.  He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd.  So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”  So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.  For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

  • Luke 19:1-10

“Debt collecting is the natural response of sinful humans to being harmed, abused, or mistreated.  Invariably it produces the bitter fruit of deeper pain, resentment, and bondage.

“But there is another way.  A better way.  God’s way.”

  • Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Choosing Forgiveness

This topic has been growing of late.  The Canadian PM under fire for something that he did a long time ago.  There was a governor in the US “outed” for the same offense, last year, I think.  A supreme court justice is being accused by another person for something done long ago.  Not long ago, Kate Smith was condemned for a song that she sang nearly 100 years ago.  Can any of us live up to the lens being cast on public personalities (that might disagree with the views of the acusers)?

It reminds me of two totally different career trajectories.  Gary Hart had an affair with Donna Rice, and it wrecked his chances in the presidential campaign in 1988.  He had declined to run for reelection as a senator the previous year.  He never held another elected position.  He has not disappeared from public life, serving as a special envoy to Northern Ireland during the Obama administration, but he forfeited his greatest dream.  Bill Clinton has also not served as an elected official after his sex scandal with Monica Lewinsky, but he is held in high regard.  If the constitutional amendment to limit presidential terms was not limited, he might have run for reelection in 2000 and won.

Why are we so willing to ignore the sins of one person and hold the other person’s feet to the fire?  In some cases, it comes down to that person’s perceived value.  If you agree with one person’s politics, you could care less about that person’s concept of morality.  But if they lean in the wrong direction, “Off with their heads!”  It all depends on who is in control of the narrative.  Too much of the narrative is being controlled by the media that tends to be moderately left to further left.

For the difference in Hart in 1988 and Clinton in 1998, it seems to directly relate to our turning our backs on God.  Without God, there is no forgiveness for others.  There is no forgiveness for ourselves.  We cannot forgive ourselves.

I know of people who have turned their back on God.  One subset of those people did things in wartime that they cannot forgive.  God is willing to forgive them, but they reject God, reject His offer of forgiveness, and seek psychiatric help to deal with the constant agony of the memories of their actions.  In an odd way, they are already in Hell.  There is still breath in their lungs, at least some of them that I know, but have they closed that door?

Then, I must turn inward.  I think of C. S. Lewis explaining that when he offends, he usually offends people by accident, for when he tries to harm someone, they laugh it off.  I am the same way.  I try to edit these posts multiple times and have someone else read them over, just to see if I have written something that can be taken the wrong way, a different way than intended.  I am more spontaneous with my comments on the blogs of others.  I hope that I have not offended anyone.  It doesn’t matter if you disagree, but I sometimes make mistakes when it comes to multiple ways of interpreting something.

Some of my mistakes come from my upbringing, or lack of upbringing.  I’ll use the birds and bees as an example, but anything might apply.  My mother was very strict and when it came to the birds and the bees, the subject was never mentioned because she felt even discussing it was sinful, regardless of whether that was kissing in public, fooling around, or normal marital relations.  I once asked a very stupid and naive question.  Because I was ignorant on the topic, I had no idea I had just asked a question about sex.  My mother turned every shade in the rainbow, laid down and fanned herself.  My Dad quickly ushered me to another room.  He said, “Haven’t you learned anything watching the dogs do it?”  I looked at him in total confusion.  I had seen the dogs do all kinds of things.  I had no idea what “it” was.  To clarify, my Dad said, “Think about it!”  He said it in such a way that I never asked another question again in that arena.  That was the entirety of my “Birds and Bees Talk.”  My education, then, became self-taught, through the usual improper methods, and I had a vague idea before the popular sex books of my era came out, Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex* in 1969 and the Joy of Sex in 1972.  I am reminded of something that Beth Moore said, that we are called to child-like faith, not childish naivete, but I hard to learn the hard way and I’m not done learning.

Since I grew up in another time, where I was not exposed to such things until college or seeing it on the movie screen, vile gestures are only understood to me as vile gestures.  I have no idea what they mean, so I try to avoid them.  I say ‘try’ in that you have no idea, unless you study the topic, what a common polite hand gesture in the US means in a foreign country.  You’d be surprised in some cases.

Ken Davis said in an interview on Dinner Conversations with Mark Lowry that we live in a humorless society.  He went on to give his reason for the remark.  Instead of taking a joke at face value and laughing, we run it through our “Is it offensive” filter.  By the time we have analyzed it, the feeling of mirth has passed.  The feeling of offense might be there, because some of us have great imaginations when it comes to be offended.

So, I have bounced around the topic of forgiveness, but let me try to refocus and tie things together.  If we have offended or harmed others in any way, we should go to them and make it right as Zacchaeus did in the Scripture above from Luke 19.  Jesus just had to say that he would visit Zacchaeus in his home for Zacchaeus to repay those that he had cheated as a tax collector.  Zacchaeus was not saved because he returned the money.  He was not forgiven for it.  Zacchaeus demonstrated in a concrete manner that he repented of his sin and his heart was changed.  He literally turned away from the sin by giving back what he had taken.  When we can give it back or make amends, we need to try to do so.  We need to apologize and repent as a minimum.

And as for that brother who has that ‘problem’ and he keeps doing that ‘thing’ that brings harm to us, we need to forgive him without bothering to count.  The Scripture above from Matthew 18 is hard to translate.  The NIV has it as 77 times, but with a footnote that it might be translated as 70 times 7, which is 490.  In other words, don’t bother counting, but don’t ignore the sin either.  Work with that brother so that the behavior can stop.  Don’t set yourself up to be his victim the next time.  I’m using the male reference since Peter did, but it applies to anyone.  Create a barrier regarding that sin.  Ask them to seek counseling.  Create distance.  Yes, I know that can be hard with a close family member.

And to live a fulfilled Christian life, do not hang on to the guilt associated with your own sin.  That is rather arrogant of you to do so, since Jesus paid the price on the cross and our Father in Heaven has already forgiven us.  If God has separated us from our sins like the east is from the west, why are we still hanging on?

And when it comes to the media, there is an option of turning it off.  When they speak of a sin in someone’s life that most people have long forgotten, say a prayer of intercession to forgive that person.  Do not let media propaganda sway you.  If the person has not repented and continues in that sin, you must act upon your conscience in the voting booth, but make sure that your facts are straight.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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