Do you remember playing the board game ‘Sorry’? Your pawns are huddled together until one bravely crosses the starting line and begins the derby around the board. Sometimes you would move forward, other times you would move backward and occasionally you would get a ‘Sorry’ card which meant you could change places with one of your opponent’s pawns; getting you substantially closer to being home safe. You would say ‘Sorry’ to them but you weren’t really looking for forgiveness. Instead, you were just looking to win and had no problem running over anyone in your path. It was easy to say sorry because the whole time you had a smile on your face.
Other times it isn’t so easy to say sorry.
I can’t begin to count the numerous times I’ve had to say sorry for sticking my foot in my mouth, forgetting something important or even purposely putting my own desires above someone else. That last one was the worst, because I was doing more than just making a mistake, I was de-valuing the worth of someone.
Saying sorry in these moments is hard. It takes humility and goes against our natural instinct to prove we’re right. Think about a time you’ve had to apologize. These are some of the most awkward, palm sweating conversations we have ever had, but as hard as it is to ask for forgiveness, I think it is actually harder to forgive.
It is harder because the forgiveness, in order to be effective, must be greater than the offense that was rendered. In other words, to forgive someone –to not hold what they did against them, no longer consider them as in debt etc.- you have to look past the pain and hurt of your emotions and purposely choose to move forward. Have you ever worked hard at something and then someone else came along and worked harder making it look like you didn’t even do anything? That’s what forgiveness is like. It outshines the original offense. It’s a big deal and that’s exactly how we see it talked about in scripture.
Whenever the Bible talks about forgiveness it is often spoken of in strong language. Jesus forgave us BIG. One of the most common things I hear non-Christians say is that God can’t possibly forgive them for what they have done. To me this usually seems like an excuse. They know about God, but they don’t want to surrender their life to Him, so they put the blame back on God. These people determine that it isn’t them who need to change it’s “I would come to God but he can’t possibly forgive me” or “I can’t step into the church, I might burn.” God becomes the problem, not them- God isn’t going to forgive me, God is angry at me etc.
This is a lie from the enemy used to keep people from coming to Jesus. It’s a pride not willing to humble itself and accept the absolute forgiveness offered through Jesus. If it were true, if someone had truly done something so horrific that the blood of Jesus could not forgive it, then we don’t serve a very big God. To be sure, the mistakes we have made can be big, Romans 5 tells us how big curse of sin is. The act of one man (Adam) resulted in the condemnation of all people and when measured against the law we and our selfish actions were deserving of death. It is impossible to count the billions and billions of sins that were laid upon the shoulders of Christ on the cross. It was so great and horrific that God himself turned His face away in that moment when Jesus cried out, ‘my God, my God, why have you forsaken me’ (Matthew 27)
While Romans 5 describes how big of a problem sin is, the letter also goes on to tell us ‘Where sin is, grace abounds.’ Plain and simple; What Jesus did on the cross, is greater than what you and I have done in sin. Our sin is big but His forgiveness is bigger. Psalm 103 tells us that God removes our transgressions as far as the east is from the west and Micah 7 says they are on the bottom of the ocean floor. Big language describing big forgiveness from a big God.
This grace given to us is astounding and it’s an example for us in what our attitude toward forgiveness should be. Ephesians 4:32 says “Be kind to one another, forgiving each other just as Christ as forgiven you.” We are expected to be ready and willing to forgive and forgive big. When asked how big by Peter Jesus gave this answer; Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.(Matthew 18) 7 times 70 is 490 but the math really isn’t the point. The point is to forgive big because you have been forgiven big.
So what is forgiveness? It is a choice we make, not based on our feelings but based on the example of Christ and our commitment to following Him. It is keeping no record of wrongs, not using the other’s offense as leverage against them and affirming the value and worth of the other person.
What is forgiveness not? It is not negating the natural consequences of our actions, those may still very well occur. It does however, negate the revengeful consequences. When we forgive we give up our right to retaliate. Forgiveness is not a sign of weakness but great strength; it’s a lot easier to get angry when you feel angry than to be forgiving when you feel angry. Finally, it is not letting the other person win. With forgiveness, the offender is freed from their debt and the offended no longer has to carry around the burden of anger and revenge. In forgiveness both are set free.
Below is a powerful video describing the forgiveness God has given us. Watch and remember you have been forgiven big to forgive big!