Unless You Forgive

Painting by Jonathan G. Keller  http://jonathangkeller.com/
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.

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.

“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

“At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

“His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

“But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
-Matthew 18:21-35

Unless we forgive other Christians authentically, which means being forgiving, living in forgiveness (forgiven-ness), we will be tortured, like the man in Jesus' parable.  This is hard to understand, because Our Heavenly Father is not a torturer.

Forgiving "from the heart" means, conversely, that there is inauthentic, false, or fraudulent, pseudo-forgiveness that is not real, not "from the heart".  We can say, "I forgive you", or pray or say, "I forgive"; yet not be forgiving from our hearts.  True, real, authentic, or "from the heart" forgiveness means that the relationship is reconciled from your end, with the optimistic grace of complete restoration, of being as it was before the sin, debt, or offence that needed forgiving.

This word from Jesus sounds like we will be tortured, if we do not truly forgive other Christians.  In the parable, the man is handed over to the torturers.  In these kinds of prisons, the guards or jailers were torturers.  The person was tortured, so that they or their family would come up with the money, or pay their debt.

What Jesus is saying, is that if we do not forgive authentically, we will be tortured.  How so?  In the parable, the man who was forgiven much did not forgive the one who owed him little.  God is not mad at such a man, and does not punish him for being this way.  That man punishes himself.

If we read the whole parable, we see that the man in question had a case of overconfidence, denial, pride, or hubris, in regards to his own debt.  This is revealed by the words, "Not able to pay", "Ten thousand bags of gold".  He had the audacity to tell the king he would pay it off, he begged, "Be patient with me, and I will pay it back everything".

The master knows that the man can't pay it back, and we, the hearers of the parable, know he can't pay it back.  But the man has deceived himself into thinking he can pay this impossible debt back.  What we have here, is a man who thinks his debt is smaller than it actually is, or has way overestimated his abilities to get or earn the money to pay his debt.

The master knows it is impossible and forgives the whole debt.  The master is forgiving and pragmatic.  He saw the impossibility of repayment and forgave it all.  No repayment plan.

It is astonishing to see how the forgiven man has not been transformed or regenerated by this amazing grace forgiveness.  He appears to have not valued the gift he was given and perhaps still believed that he could have payed the debt over time.  So, he still has a mindset of, "You owe me", or "I owe you", completely mercenary, without grace or mercy.  He is not living in forgiven-ness.

The person who does not forgive, but who says they are a Christian, is a person who lives with the torture of a legalism, outside of Christ, towards themselves and others, that is delusional.  The person who does not forgive does not see Jesus, and has not experienced Jesus; because if you have received his forgiveness, then you will live in forgiven-ness and be a forgiver to those you relate to in the family of God.  And, if you are not in Christ to begin with, then you will of course, not recognize the family of God.

When we become Christians, it is an event and a process.  We can receive total forgiveness from God and not understand the gravity of what has been done for us.  It has been done and when we receive it, we show that we have it by being forgivers and living in forgiven-ness.

I have received God's gracious gift of forgiveness in Christ.  Jesus Christ's life is in me, working itself through every aspect of my life.  I see through him and I live through him,  and I relate to others through him.

In Christ, I have no basis for unforgiveness or pseudo-forgiveness.  This parable tells us that you can either live in the freedom of Christ, where you have freely been forgiven and freely, from the heart, forgive your brothers and sisters; or you can choose delusion, where you don't forgive others, because you have not incorporated or appropriated life God's forgiveness, and you are living a tortured life.

I don't think Jesus is saying that if you are unforgiving, that you lose your forgiveness, but he is saying that if you are unforgiving, it is a sign that you have not incorporated or appropriated God's forgiveness.  God's forgiveness is offered freely to all.  When we refuse Christ's life in our life, and do not forgive, we simply negate God's forgiveness towards us.

In the parable, the master knows the debt is impossible for the man to pay, yet he puts the man back in prison and hands him over to the torturers, who's job is to torture the man until he pays back his debt.  The parable, by Jesus, has hyperbole in it.

God knows that we can not ever pay our debt of sin.  But if we insist on not appropriating Christ's forgiveness in our lives, then we sentence our selves to a life in the torture chamber of unforgiven-ness.

The forgiveness offered by God in Christ is judicial and transformational.  Everything changes and being forgiven means we continually forgive others, over and over and over, if need be.

"From the heart" forgiveness means not holding things against people, not withdrawing from people, and not being superior to people.  This kind of forgiveness is only possible in Christ.  When we forgive, it is as if the infraction had never happened.  I can attempt to bring it to mind, but it is a vague memory, because I have Christ and his forgiveness working within me.

Who has your heart?  If Jesus has your heart, then you can forgive from the heart.

My forgiveness, that Jesus commands, towards other believers, is by me and for me and on my end.  I can forgive you, not hold anything against you, and not withdraw from you.  I can be "At peace" towards you.  But you may not be reconciled to me for a variety of reasons, which are none of my business.

The person we forgive may be harmful and destructive, so relationship is impossible.  We can and must forgive them, but cannot have an edifying relationship with them, in Christ.  If we are forced to relate to them, we forgive, speak the truth in love, have mercy, are gracious, but we do not have to entrust our selves to them.

If someone is negligent with something you entrust to them, you forgive them, even from your heart, authentically.  Relationship is restored, you are not mad at them, and you don't hold it against them, as in punishing them.  But, you can then be careful not to give that trust or responsibility back to them without proof that they are going to be more responsible.  People can be fully forgiven, on your end, but you don't have to trust them or entrust your heart, your friendship, or your possessions to them.
"Unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart..."
Jesus is saying that we, as forgiven ones, can not live in unforgiveness, towards others.  Why?  Because it short-circuits our appropriation of forgiveness.  Not forgiving is self-righteous, human centered religion.

As I live in the awe of God's work in Christ to forgive me, I continually realize that others who sin against me are also people who need Christ's forgiveness, just like me, and I could be capable of doing whatever they did to me.  When that 'light bulb' comes on in my head, I realize how we are all on the human level and I can never claim superiority.  I must forgive them and keep living in the vine of Christ, in forgiven-ness.

If I am tempted to not forgive, I look to Christ.  I see myself in the light of his grace.  It is hard when someone we love, perhaps in a primary relationship or a very close brother or sister in Christ, hurts us.  It is a betrayal of our trust.  But, when that happens, I am in the good company of Christ.

I can and must forgive.  The other person is often still going to be hurtful and perhaps, harmful again.  They don't get it, yet.  But, I will forgive and let the savior save, let the healer heal, let the deliverer deliver, and let the shepherd watch over all his lambs, and I follow him.

The painting above is by Jonathan G. Keller