Elements of Inner Peace: Forgiveness

Forgiveness.

A recurring moral concept in our lives. A principle that has been heard by all yet internalized by less than all. An action that we often do grudgingly or not at all.

Forgiveness is one of the hardest concepts to grasp and internalize because it is not natural to us. To be wronged by a person is something that can cause deep pain which then turns into animosity for those who have wronged us. We can carry unforgiveness in our hearts for such a long time, even years, depending on how bad the person hurt us.

Of course we can grasp the concept of forgiveness in “small” cases. If someone doesn’t hold the door open for us or cuts us off while we’re talking... most people would not find it hard to forgive these petty offenses. But what about a person who has stolen something valuable from us? A father who left us in childhood? A friend who stabbed us in the back? A significant other who broke our hearts?

It seems that people who play significant roles in our lives have more potential to hurt us. It can be hard to grasp why we should forgive a person who hurts us deeply since our natural human reaction is to protect ourselves by cutting someone off, throwing dirt on their name, and blotting their existence out of our memory.

So since forgiveness is not natural to us… how does it even make sense? Why should we ever forgive people that have hurt us so deeply?

Well, Matthew 18:21-35 provides us with a short story that illustrates why we should forgive each other. In this passage, Jesus tells a parable (a metaphorical story that reveals the truth about a concept) about a King and his servant who owes him much debt. Let’s call this servant Thomas. The King is upset about the unpaid debt and is ready to sell Thomas and his family in order to pay off the debt that he owes. But when Thomas begs the King for mercy, the King feels pity for him, releases him, and forgives his debt.

But there is another servant (let’s call this servant Michael) who owes Thomas a very small amount of debt. Instead of forgiving Michael, Thomas makes a big fuss about the debt and does not forgive him. Thomas then calls for Michael to be arrested since he did not repay the small debt. Upon hearing this, the King is extremely troubled that after he has forgiven Thomas of a large debt, Thomas couldn’t pardon Michael’s small debt. Matthew 18:32-34 explains how the King feels when he hears of this news. The King says, “You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you? Then the angry King sent the man to prison to be tortured until he paid his entire debt.”

This parable depicts how God sees us when we don’t forgive one another. Because He has it in His heart to forgive us of the wrongdoing that we all have if we ask for forgiveness, He expects us to show the same type of mercy to one another. It is simply hypocritical to expect forgiveness if we can’t give forgiveness ourselves.

This concept is much easier said than done since there is so much deep pain that we can experience when people do us wrong. But this parable puts forgiveness into perspective. Although people can hurt us so deeply, we all ourselves have hurt God deeply through our many wrongdoings. However, because of His great love for us, He forgives us whenever we ask for forgiveness and decide to change for the better. He even “removes our sins from us as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12)” and “will never again remember our sins (Hebrews 8:12).”

So how can we find it in our hearts to forgive one another? Through remembering the tremendous love God has shown to us by forgiving us. And how do we genuinely forgive? Through showing mercy on people and not revisiting their wrongdoings mentally or verbally...even if they deserve it.

We don’t even deserve forgiveness ourselves, yet God gives it to us freely. If we forgive in this way, we become like the God who we hope forgives us. Although we may not continue to trust the person we forgive, it is important to at least forgive them.

Forgiveness is a prerequisite to inner peace. How can we expect to be at peace inside when there are so many people who we have hatred for? We torture ourselves when we keep record of so many people’s wrongdoings toward us. In order to gain favor in God’s eyes and to gain inner peace, we simply must forgive one another… every single time.

“Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”

“No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!” - Matthew 18:21-24