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Preacher's pulpit: Forgive and forget?

January 11, 2002|By Basil Bell, special to this newspaper

All of us have been told at some time to forgive and forget, but to get forgiveness out of some of us it would be easier to get blood from turnips.

When someone does us wrong we find it perversely sweeter to caress ourselves with self-pity than to forgive. But this attitude is both dangerous and counterproductive.

A spirit of revenge and hate often leads people to act on their sullen, murderous thoughts and, like sparks around flammable substances, they burst into violence. Our penal institutions are filled with people who have destroyed themselves because they could not forgive.

What is forgiveness? Forgiveness is giving up my right to hurt you for you hurting me.

Now, forgiving someone for a one-time offense is not nearly so difficult as forgiving someone who is constantly hurting you.

"Keep forgiving my spouse, my boss, my co-worker? No way! They treat me unfairly and they keep hurting me!"

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No doubt it was this dilemma that drove Peter to ask Jesus how many times he should forgive his brother. Peter thought that seven times was a gracious plenty. Jesus countered by suggesting 70 times seven. I am to forgive 490 times for each offense!

The beauty of Jesus' response is that if God expects us to forgive and forgive and to keep on forgiving, then it tells us something of how God forgives us. God forgives 70 times seven.

You see, some people think that God has a threshold of forgiveness, just as we have a threshold to pain. That there comes a time when he says, "Now, son, you've blown it too many times. I'm sorry, I can't forgive you any more. I'm giving up on you."

The Bible doesn't teach that God gives up on us, but what happens is we give up on God and on each other. We doubt God's goodness, His mercy and His willingness to forgive.

Jesus told Peter the story of a servant who owed his master, the king, 10,000 talents. Ten thousand talents! That was a king's ransom. It was equivalent to the combined debt of the state of California. That debt represents what we each owe to God.

The servant didn't have the money to pay his debt so his master sincerely forgave him all the debt. Imagine that! This man and his family would have been thrown to the galley to work out the debt by hard labor, but the gracious king forgave so freely.

The man should have been singing all the way home, but on the way he met someone who owed him several thousand dollars. He grabbed the debtor by the neck, began to choke him, demanding "Pay back what you owe me!" (Matthew 18:28).

The man asked for a little patience with him and all would be repaid, but he would have none of this. He wanted what was due him now. The servant had the debtor thrown into prison until he could repay the debt. Sad.

How much do you owe God? He made you, wakes you up every morning and sustains you. How often has He forgiven you? Who are you more like: that king who represents our forgiving God or the hardhearted servant who represents the majority of humanity?

Only when you truly experience and comprehend something of the goodness of God toward you, of the great debt that he has forgiven you, will you be able to forgive an offending spouse, father or mother, boss, co-worker or fellow person in the pew. Only then will you give up your right to get even.

Instead of striking back, just let it go. A forgiven person is a forgiving person.

>> Basil Bell is pastor of the Brawley and El Centro English-language Seventh-Day Adventist churches.

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