The Power of Forgiveness: Forgiveness Without End
“Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me?”—Matthew 18:21
The relatives of worshippers slain in June of 2015, inside an historic African American church in Charleston, South Carolina, were able to speak directly to the accused gunman at his first court appearance.
“We are a family that love built. We have no room for hating, so we have to forgive,” said a sister of one of the victims.
“I forgive you. You took something very precious from me. I will never talk to her again. I will never, ever hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul,” said the daughter of a victim.1
One by one, those who chose to speak did not turn to anger. Instead, they offered him forgiveness and said they were praying for his soul, even as they described the pain of their losses. He will face justice, but he will have also experienced forgiving grace.
Could you forgive like that? I know I would struggle. I am deeply touched and convicted by this act of forgiveness, which is what Jesus taught.
Peter came to Him one day and asked Jesus how many times he was required to forgive. “Up to seven times?” he asked hopefully.
The rabbis of that time made decisions on such issues based on discussion and debate, tradition, and the consensus of thinking. They had made three the required number of times to forgive.
Peter was probably trying impress Jesus with his suggestion of seven!
But Jesus went beyond the religious community and their traditions and requirements. He included all of humanity in His answer to Peter: “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”
These numbers in the Hebrew traditions represent completeness and forgiveness without end. Forever, eternal, unending, and inexhaustible only begin to describe God’s capacity for forgiveness—His gift to us.
I pray that we can learn to forgive and be forgiven; then we are truly living and experiencing God’s grace.
“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”—C.S. Lewis
1. Washington Post, June 19, 2015