• Scott Watkins

How Forgiveness Becomes Easier

Sometimes it’s easy to check out and let things slide. The kids are fighting and we pretend not to hear. An employee doesn’t follow through, but we don’t address it. Our wife needs help, but we try not to notice. What if we took that approach with retribution? It’s hard work holding on to bitterness and unforgiveness. What if we just let it go?

God treats us better than we deserve (Psalm 103:10) so we can handle being treated worse than we deserve by others, but when we don’t recognize this, we struggle.

In one parable (Matthew 18:21-35), Jesus spoke analogously of sin as monetary debt. The story goes that there was a man who found himself in debt to a king. Not just a small debt, but a massive sum. The king attempted to collect the debt, but the man could not repay. He begged the king for more time after the king ordered him, his family and his possessions be sold to settle the debt. In an extravagant act of mercy, the king canceled the man’s debt and let him go free.

The man left the king, and we expect to hear he goes on to live a life exemplified by mercy and generosity. He experienced a windfall gain, and when people feel wealthy, they become generous. Especially when they didn’t earn their wealth.

But this story takes an unexpected turn. The man leaves the king with his eye towards collecting on another debt. This time, he is the one who is owed money. When he finds the debtor (whose debt is relatively inconsequential), he demands repayment. The debtor cannot repay him, so he has him thrown in prison.

The contrast of these two people’s actions provides us much to consider. Chiefly, I wonder how someone who has experienced such mercy could be so unmerciful? I think the answer, in part at least, is this; people who feel wealthy are generous, but people who feel poor are stingy.

This man was released from an impossible debt. Yet, his mind was fixated on what was owed him. Instead of reveling in his undeserved bounty, he fumed over his loss. He put greater value and mindshare on his due than on his blessings. We don’t see the reckless generosity that often characterizes the newly, suddenly wealthy. Nothing in his actions tells us he was transformed by his newfound abundance. How might his actions have changed if he had?

That’s an interesting question. Even more interesting to me though is when I ask it of myself.

Forgiveness can be hard. Subjugating my emotions to my reason, will and spirit is necessary, but emotions get a powerup in the aftermath of an offense. Reason says to let go of the offense, stop thinking of how unfairly I’ve been treated, and stop replaying the events in my mind. This argument is reasonable but difficult to do until I remember Jesus’ story.

Forgiveness is easier when you recognize the wealth of forgiveness you have received.

The absurdity of the ungratefulness in this story appalls us. Yet, I wonder how common this story is. How do our sins against God and others' sins against us compare? How often does an offender lack the means to repay because they are emotionally incapable, or the hurt they’ve caused is irreversible? What do we need that God hasn’t provided?

God has treated us better than we deserve. He has forgiven us a massive debt. Meditate on that until joy in your riches overwhelms you. Allowing the weight of this truth to settle on us frees us to be extravagantly forgiving ourselves.