The Suffering and Blessing of Forgiveness

Forgiveness is hard. It is not as simple as opening the jail cell of a prisoner and saying, “go free – you are forgiven.” Forgiveness is more complicated and more costly than that – and it’s designed to be. We do benefit when we forgive others, as giving others the grace we have been given by God is a joyous thing – but it’s painful.

To forgive is to absorb something. It does not go away. If I slight you and you forgive me, you don’t un-remember my offense; you merely accept it for what it was and you choose to absolve me. That hurts. The offense still happened and if you choose to forgive, you get to internalize it in your memory.

God is an exception, however:

“…For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34 ESV)

God is an exception because of the work of Jesus on the cross – he remembers our sins no more. When our debt was paid by Jesus’ crucifixion, God not only forgave – he forgot. On purpose. It would be helpful if we shared this ability with God, but it appears not to be the case because I can remember nearly every harsh word someone has said to me. Our memories are sticky with other people’s sins and very loose with our own.

When we give the grace of forgiveness, we also taste the grace of forgiveness. It’s like sharing a meal with someone. When we forgive, we remind ourselves of Jesus’ ultimate forgiveness – and this should refresh our spirits. The grace Jesus pours into our hearts is bigger than the bitterness of past hurts.

In Matthew 18, Peter asks Jesus how often he should forgive someone who sins against him, likely searching on the outer limits of forgiveness. Jesus offers no such answer. Jesus tells Peter he should forgive seventy seven times. Seventy seven times. Jesus isn’t being technical here; the point is that you cannot reach the end of your need to forgive others. You cannot stop absorbing the sins of others as you free them from their bondage of their wrong against you. You pay, they go free.

Jesus knows how this feels. He knows what he is asking. He has absorbed your sins already, suffering to the point of death for your transgressions. May that immeasurable grace be our portion as we forgive – and suffer – the sins of others.

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