Sometimes, you have every right to practice the sin of unforgiveness. Seriously.
But don’t misread me. This doesn’t mean that you should, and it certainly doesn’t free you from the consequences.
In other words:
When You Have Every Right To Sin, Don’t
I want to address this idea of unforgiveness. Sometimes, you really do have a right to begrudge somebody. After all, people do horrible things, and you’ve doubtless been a victim of their misdeeds. Legitimately, it could be anything. There is no limit to how you could have been, and likely have been, wronged. Were you:
- Spoken ill of,
- Gossiped about,
- Stolen from, or
- Hated without cause?
Realistically, whoever did this to you is not likely to apologize. Apologies are a rare and precious commodity these days, and we don’t see them (or say them) often enough. For what it’s worth, I’m sorry that these things have happened to you. You are better than the things that were done to you, and you never deserved to suffer the things which you have suffered. It’s not fair. It’s a tragedy that humanity treats each other so poorly, and it’s unfortunate that you have seen the depravity of man first hand. (I mean that. I really do.)
And realistically, nobody would blame you if you hated your perpetrator. Let’s be real: they deserve nothing less. You were wronged, and the natural response is distrust, dislike, and disdain.
And while hating someone who entirely deserves it is natural, it isn’t right. God has called us to a better life: one of forgiveness, and one of peace.
This brings to mind Christ’s parable of the unmerciful servant, found in Matthew 18:21-35. We are told the story of a servant who owed his master a ridiculously large debt, the likes of which he could never pay off in a hundred lifetimes. While the master prepared to sell the servant and his family to cut his losses and move on, the servant implored him to reconsider, pleading for more time to pay the impossible debt. Despite the fact that the master had every right to ignore the pleas of his servant, the master had mercy on him and forgave the entire debt. Sweet deal, right?
So the servant walks out with a new lease on life, and doubtless a spring is his step. I’m not talking like a typical spring, either. This guy may have rivaled Fred Astaire (but I kinda doubt it).
Regardless, he’s been set free of his debts, and while he and his family should have been sold, and likely separated, the graciousness of the master allowed them to remain together, and freely at that. So what’s the first thing he does? Hug his wife and children? Celebrate with some Kosher pizza? One would think, but the story takes an unfortunate turn.
Instead of celebrating his good fortune, the servant goes and finds a fellow servant who owed him a mere pittance in comparison. The debt, to be sure, was an honest one, but meager compared to the debt which had been forgiven. Instead of offering the same grace, the first servant seized the second at the throat, attempting to shake the debt from his debtor. When this tactic proved fruitless, he had him thrown into a debtor’s prison.
When the master caught wind of this, he was outraged, and had the first servant cast into prison to pay that initial, impossible debt. None would argue that he did not receive his due reward.
Thus ends the parable, with a word of caution from Jesus:
So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart. —Matthew 18:35
It doesn’t matter if someone owes you an honest debt. Christ freely offers us forgiveness for our infinite debt of sin that keeps us from Him and expects, even demands that we offer forgiveness for the finite debts that are owed to us. It just makes good sense.Unforgiveness does not hold them accountable, but it does hold you captive. Click To Tweet
I’m not minimizing the debt that you-know-who owes you. They did wrong, and they deserve to pay for it, but you can’t collect that debt. Unforgiveness does not hold them accountable, but it does hold you captive. That unforgiveness gets deep inside of you, and brings you turmoil at every turn. (Sidenote: This does not mean that the person who wronged you is free from criminal charges. If you’ve been molested, raped, or assaulted in any way, it is not unforgiving to get the police involved.)
Worst case scenario: God throws you into an eternal prison because you refuse to forgive a temporal debt. Obviously, it’s not worth it. I’m not going to pretend that it’s easy. I struggle with unforgiveness. I’ve been done wrong, and I despise people for it, but I’m working on letting it, and letting them go. Admittedly, I do a lot better when I keep proper perspective, and view the weight of their transgressions against me juxtaposed against my own sins against God. It’s no contest.
Christ is our example. Therefore, forgive freely. It’s the only way.