seventy times seven?

Posted: May 19, 2013 in Forgiveness
Tags: , , , , , , ,

(image from Gaudenscor)

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus told his disciples when they asked (bet they regretted that one) that they had to be prepared to forgive someone who sinned against them seventy times seven (sometimes put seventy-seven times. Not sure which is more correct, but it doesn’t really matter – it’s A LOT).

There are lots of other verses about forgiveness spattered throughout Matthew and the rest of the Bible. You get the impression that it seems to be a good idea. It brings with it the idea of reconciliation and shalom (peace and wholeness) and joy and renewal and mercy and the general topsy-turvy nature of the kingdom of God.

Wonderful. Sounds like such a good theory, doesn’t it? Forgiveness seems to bring benefit to all, even the person who has to get out there and do it. And they all live happily ever after.

Only, I’m just not sure that that is always the case. What if the pain from the hurt is constant and ongoing? What if the person doesn’t recognise that they have done anything wrong? What if they act like you and your hurt don’t exist?

It seems that the jury’s out on whether you need someone to repent before you forgive them. I’m not sure either way. Certainly, it’s not a great idea to carry round a heavy burden of pain which could be laid to rest, but without any acknowledgement from the other party, sometimes it doesn’t feel like there is anywhere safe to put it. As sinners, we need God to forgive us, but the Bible is pretty clear that in order to turn to Christ, we need to repent of all the things we have done wrong.

But then if you look back into recent African history, you soon discover that the people there are good at this. They seem to recognise the value of laying down the burden which some see as being “trapped in a prison of hatred”. (see Rwandan forgiveness article) Terrible things have happened in Rwanda, to name just one country, but people have been prepared to be able to move on. So challenging for us.

Forgiveness hurts. It isn’t easy. It isn’t glamourous. It isn’t fun. And you might never gain recognition for it, because the person who sinned against you may never admit it either to you or to anyone else. They may never demonstrate any sort of remorse. Are you prepared to forgive, even without repentance?

Somehow the cross has to be central. Our burden of hurt is something we can lay down at the foot of the cross, knowing that our sins and those of the other can be met and dealt with there. Jesus died for me and also for the person who abused me. He died for me and those who have rejected me. He died for me, just as he died for everyone.

Forgiveness does not mean reconciliation. And it never should. Forgiveness is just that. It means giving up our resentment against someone. It means we don’t harbour a grievance against them.

I think that the seventy times seven reflects the difficulty of this challenge. We have the choice as we wake up each day, as to whether we will forgive so-and-so or not. Seventy times seven. Surely, that’s the number of times we have to forgive each offence, seventy times seven different ones? (Though in some cases, maybe it is more than just one wrong.) It requires continual effort and grace.

It might be painful. It might feel (and quite frankly often does) totally crap. But it is somehow necessary. And the God who does not remain silent, the God who forgives us our sin, and who sent his Spirit upon us is there throughout, our Rock and our Redeemer.

Am I there yet? No. Do I want to be there? Maybe. On a good day. But I do have to keep on trusting in the goodness of God, in and through everything.

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