Peter once asked Jesus, “How often do I forgive someone who sins against me? As many as seven times?” The rabbis of the day taught that you only had to forgive a person three times. Peter may have felt he was being quite generous. He wasn’t a second-chance person or even a third-chance person. He was a seven-chance person.
But Jesus’ response was as radical then as it is today. He said, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Some versions even translate this as seventy-times-seven (which is 490 times…unless you’re into subjective math). This was a very Jewish way of saying that there should be no limit to the number of times you forgive someone.
God’s grace is boundless. He’s not a second-chance God or a seven-chance God. He’s a seventy-seven chance God. And if we truly follow Jesus, there should be no limit to our forgiveness.
Some believe that forgiveness is showing weakness but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Forgiveness is powerful. When somebody deeply wounds you that person has power over you. As long as you hold onto what they did, the wounds from that person will continue to dominate your life, colouring your perception and controlling your participation in relationships. They will stall you from healing and moving forward. When you forgive someone, you are engaging in a very powerful act. You are taking back control of your life, taking the power back from the person who has wronged you. You are saying, “I will no longer allow this to control my life.”
Forgiving someone isn’t condoning what they’ve done. You’re not saying what they did was okay and you’re not being passive about what happened. In fact, you are being active about what happened. You are acknowledging that something wrong has happened. Otherwise, there would be nothing to forgive. God forgives us but that does not mean he condones our sin.
A common misunderstanding is that forgiveness is forgetting. To forgive someone means to no longer hold them to account for what they’ve done. It means that you wipe the slate clean. But it doesn’t mean you forget. In some situations, forgetting what someone has done could be dangerous or destructive. If the person you are forgiving is toxic, dangerous, or abusive, you need to remember that. What happened should make you wiser about the future.
It is a huge theological misunderstanding to say that God forgives and forgets. You might wonder about verses that say, “I will remember your sin no more” (Isaiah 43:25). But these are misleading translations. The original language more accurately carries the idea of not bringing something to mind or not holding someone to account. The point is that God is not going to keep bringing up past sins. Besides, can an all-knowing, omniscient God really forget something? And keep in mind that at the final judgment, everyone will be judged according to what they have done. God forgives but he doesn’t forget.
Recently Rachael Denhollander released her book, “What Is a Girl Worth?” where she accounts her story of sexual abuse at the hands of Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics team doctor. This courageous step inspired two-hundred other women to come forward and testify against Nassar. In her statement to the court, Denhollander asked the question: “How much is a little girl worth?” She pleaded with the court to impose on Nassar the maximum sentence, “because ‘everything’ is what these survivors are worth.” She forgave Nassar but didn’t confuse forgiving with forgetting. “But we are here now, and today that message can be sent. With the sentence you hand down, you can communicate to us, to every predator, to every little girl or young woman that is watching — how much a little girl and woman is worth.”
Forgiving is not the same as forgetting. Sometimes a person will have to face the consequences for their actions, even when forgiven. These could be legal consequences. They may need to make restitution for what they did. And whether they pay or not, you can still forgive them.
We must forgive. Forgiving is not forgetting.
This is a rewind to one of my recent teaching messages at Crosspoint Church. You can hear the full message here.