Al was attacked and bitten by a dog. He was admitted to hospital and the doctors ran a series of tests. “Bad news,” said one of the doctors, “you have rabies and we don’t have any medication to help you.” “That’s okay,” said Al, “just bring me a pad of paper and a pen.” When the paper arrived, Al started writing furiously. “Are you writing your will?” asked the doctor. “No” said Al, “I’m making a list of all the people I want to bite before I die.”
Do you have a list like that? Do you maintain a mental tally of people who have wronged you and you hold a grudge against? Living with bitterness is a terrible thing, yet so many people hold on to the past – and, by refusing to forgive, are locked into unhealthy patterns.
To be clear, forgiveness isn’t easy. C.S. Lewis said, “Forgiveness is a beautiful word, until you have something to forgive.” Forgiveness isn’t easy because it deals with real sin – things that have caused us real pain.
Peter once asked Jesus how often we had to forgive someone. We all know the answer because we find it hard to accept. Jesus said, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Jesus then told a parable about a man who was himself forgiven a huge debt, but refused to offer forgiveness for a small one. (Matthew 18:21-35)
Jesus made it clear that our ability to forgive comes from the fact that we have first been forgiven. We didn’t earn forgiveness – it was granted to us when we asked for it. When we pray as Jesus taught his disciples, we say, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12)
When we have been deeply hurt, forgiving others may not come in one cathartic moment. It’s a decision we have to make over and over again. We ask for God’s help and we extend grace because we have been forgiven. Holding on to the past will only misshape our future. Are you ready to forgive?