The word itself can make you cringe even reading it because it likely brings up memories of someone committing a serious wrong towards you, or it reminds you of a wrong that you have committed towards someone else.
In a country that is ever-growing in terms of political polarization, where our beliefs and preferences seem to group us into narrow social boxes, the idea of creating a culture of peace anywhere in our time may seem like an unattainable feat. It seems that compromise or empathetic listening is a thing of the past. Even seeing reality clearly, for goodness sakes, is now a contested issue!
And yet, I believe that in our desire as a church to create a culture of peace, we can not only achieve that feat, but we can take it a step further and strive for a culture of forgiveness. I believe this sub-culture, within the greater culture of grace that we desire to cultivate, could be our greatest apologetic to the world.
One of my old mentors once told me that when you are in genuine community with other people, two things are inevitable - you will need to ask forgiveness to someone else, and someone else will need to ask forgiveness of you.
The very idea of forgiving someone else for wronging you from a worldly standpoint makes no sense if the goal in life is money, power, and success. Forgiveness oftentimes means forgoing temporal justice and meeting your perpetrator instead with unmerited grace.
The only way that forgiveness could possibly ever make sense is if we see, live and act through the lens of the Gospel. Jesus illustrates the why behind desiring a culture of forgiveness far better than I ever could with the parable of the unforgiving servant.
Peter, one of Jesus’s disciples, has the same stance as I would have if I was being mentored by Jesus. He asks Jesus, “hey...how many times should I forgive my dude when he wrongs me...seven times is pretty good, right Jesus?”
Jesus responds with a story of a servant who is pardoned a lifetimes worth of debt from a generous master. Many biblical scholars say that it would be like the president pardoning you millions of dollars that you owed him personally. Yet, after this happens, the pardoned servant goes and demands a debt from a fellow servant who owes him literally a few dollars in comparison. The king finds out and this is His response to the servant:
Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you? - Matthew 18:32-33
Because Jesus lived the life that we could not live and died that death that we deserved, he paid an eternal debt that was unobtainable for us to ever pay apart from his grace towards us. How in the world could we ever, if we truly believe we have been forgiven the astronomical debt that we had, not forgive others? The vertical forgiveness that God gives us must spill over horizontally in how we interact with others.
Forgiveness is at the core of the good news of Jesus, of Christianity. We forgive because we have been forgiven.
I want to leave you all with a video of the most powerful act of human forgiveness that I have ever seen. Anita Smith’s husband was murdered for being a missionary in a nation that was hostile to the Gospel. This was her response on national television, days after her husband was killed. Please take a chance and watch this short video if you are able.
That is a woman who understood the debt she had been forgiven. May we learn from Anita, and may we be a people who are able to forgive others in light of the King who pardoned us.