Some times when I’m mad at Mike, he might ask me if I’m still mad at him. Sometimes I respond, “I’m only on seventy times two right now!” He knows I’m referring to Peter in the book of Matthew.
“At that point Peter got up the nerve to ask, ‘Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?’
Jesus replied, ‘Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven.’ ” Matthew 18:21-22
I always thought it was kind of funny that Peter gave a number of times when he asked Jesus this question. Seven does seem like a mystical number in the Bible. Maybe Peter was thinking, Hey, I can live with seven times, I mean six just doesn’t quite seem enough and more than that just gets to be too much! Ha! I can just see Jesus throwing his hands and shaking his head while slightly exclaiming, Seven! Thinking, Oh Peter, if you only understood…
Why was Peter asking this? Jesus just finished explaining to them the importance of working out conflicts with someone who has hurt you. He makes it sound like a “process” of actively pursing and choosing to forgive that person. Jesus said try talking to him, if that doesn’t work, talk to him with someone else present, and if that doesn’t work, talk with someone who might offer guidance to him and guess what? If that doesn’t work, “you’ll have to start from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God’s forgiving love” (Matt. 18:17).
What?!? Start from scratch? That might be why sometimes I feel like I just can’t reach forgiveness with someone. It also sounds like a lot of work to reach forgiveness. Although, he did mention seventy times seven, hmmm… Why is forgiveness so hard?
I’m not one who believes that I have to do tons of work to get God to love me or forgive me. If I do this and this and this then all is well in the God department. I don’t think it works that way. Now, when it comes to forgiving someone else, I do think there is an action required on my part. I think Jesus is pointing out that you have to choose to forgive. That is an action of course, but by making that choice, you have to trust God will take care of the rest. Notice how he doesn’t say, once you do these steps for forgiveness, the other person will finally understand. No, he says you might have to start over, meaning you might have to keep choosing to forgive that person. And you might have to do it seventy times seven times! He doesn’t say you will get that other person to change their ways. He doesn’t say you will get that other person to come forth and apologize. I’m starting to think the whole forgiveness “process” is really for the person who is hurt, more than it is for the person who has hurt you.
That’s not to say your actions of continuously choosing to forgive a person wont have an impact on them, but I wouldn’t worry about it being your responsibility to change that person’s feelings. Yikes! That is way easier said than done. I have to trust that I am doing what I believe is right and God will take care of the rest. I’ve heard several pastors say something along the lines of how forgiveness is really for you, the person who is hurt. I think Joyce Meyer said once that unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting it to kill the other person. Double Yikes! I don’t really think about that when I’m caught up in the anger I’m feeling or bitterness. Although, I bet poison tastes pretty bitter…
I’m a big believer in speaking the Word out loud. So, what do I do when I’m harboring unforgiveness and letting it eat away at me? I speak God’s truth out loud. Even if I don’t feel it, that doesn’t mean it wont
work in my heart. The Holy Spirit is the one who ministers to my heart. I particularly like Galatians 5:1
“Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you!”
I like this verse because it reminds me that I am letting unforgiveness make me a slave and I don’t know about you, but I hate it when I realize that I am letting Satan control my emotions. I am free! Woohoo! I don’t have to feel that way! None of us do. I’m going to choose that freedom. Even if it’s seventy times seven times or whobody knows how many times.