What are the boundaries of forgiveness?
Paul Lewis Boese once quipped, “forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.”
We know from Scripture that we must forgive, but can there be a point of no return — a point where a person has gone too far or hurt us one too many times? The big betrayal. The infidelity. The senseless act of violence. What is the limit?
If you have ever asked yourself any of these questions, you are not alone. The question of forgiveness has been an issue many have wrestled with since the beginning of time.
In the book of Matthew, the story is told of Peter coming to Jesus and asking, “Lord, how often shall someone sin against me and I have to forgive him? Up to seven times?”
No doubt, Simon Peter had been dealing with some difficult person, so in his mind seven times was really generous.
So often we do the same thing. We may not be as vocal about it as Simon Peter was, but most of us have an invisible tally sheet we keep. On this mental tally sheet we compile lists of hurtful words and actions — all the times we have been mistreated or misunderstood.
Many of the biggest offenders are the people we are closest to. So what is God’s formula for forgiveness?
In the same passage, Jesus answered him and said, “No, not seven times but seven times 70.”
These are steps that Jesus himself had to take when the very people he came to save condemned him to death.
Sometimes the best in us is brought out by the worst that is done to us — usually by the people we love the most. God does not cause it, and he doesn’t intend for it to destroy us, but if we allow him, he can use the worst of situations to bring out the best in us.
Forgiveness means draining away the poison of bitterness, wrath and anger. Ephesians 4:31 says, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and slander as well as all types of evil behavior.” Unforgiveness cannot be ignored. If you do not deal with it, it will fester and grow deeper.
Forgiveness means forgiving as God has forgiven us. Ephesians 4 says, “instead, be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”
Yes, forgiveness is possible, but we must let go of our quick-fix formulas and do the right math — God’s math. Will it be difficult? Yes. Will it take time? Yes.
The way to release the offense and forgive is to pray and ask God to help you to release that person who has wronged you.
Keep knocking, keep asking and keep praying. Little by little, God will begin to restore you and heal your heart the same way he has done for others for centuries.
Jentezen Franklin is senior pastor of Free Chapel in Gainesville and the best selling author of “Love Like You’ve Never Been Hurt.” He can be contacted at 678-677-8300 or visit www.freechapel.org.