by Gayle D. Erwin

Jesus changed "eye for eye" to "forgive." Until then, humanity left all the forgiving to God. A simple study of the nature of God proves that he forgave all manner of sin. (Exodus 34:6) Now, with Jesus moving the Law to a spiritual plane, those who follow God must also forgive. Jesus relayed to us that masterpiece of communication with God we call "The Lord's Prayer." The centerpiece of the prayer is " forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us." Only that portion does Jesus choose to elaborate. Jesus informs us that if we do not forgive those who sin against us, neither will the Father forgive our sins. This is an awesome and scary statement. Forgiveness so anchors the nature of God that if we expect to walk with him, we must, at minimum, practice the trait that is at the core. No longer an option, now a requirement, forgiveness soars to the highest level of Christian living. Its effects are too broad to ignore.

Perfect Example

God's example of forgiveness has been with us a long time. We can never say that we cannot forgive because we don't know how. Centuries of God's faithfulness have shown us precisely how to forgive. With Jesus we see the forgiveness of God with skin wrapped around it. He stated that all manner of sin against him would be forgiven. (Mt. 12:3 1) When Peter, probably chafing under the requirement for forgiveness in the prayer of Jesus, asked how often he should forgive someone who sinned against him, he offered his own generous response-seven times. Surely Peter expected Jesus to compliment him for such generosity. However, Jesus moved forgiveness into a whole new plane by stating that Peter should forgive seventy times seven. I don't think Jesus was limiting forgiveness to 490 times a day, although that would be hardly possible, but was saying that forgiveness was simply a way of life, not a mathematical formula. It is impossible for someone to sin against us 490 times in one day then seek and receive forgiveness 490 times. Maybe Jesus was telling us that our heart for forgiving should exceed someone's ability to sin against us.

Perfect Clarity

Just so Peter (and we latecomers) would understand perfectly, Jesus offers a parable following the forgiveness question (Matthew 18). He tells of two debtors who are unable to pay their creditor. One owes an astronomical sum, the other, a paltry few dollars. Since the first man cannot pay his debt, he begs his creditor for forgiveness. The forgiveness is given. The second man is in an unusual situation. He owes his paltry sum to the first man who was a debtor. This first forgiven debtor goes to the second man and demands payment, even choking the second man when he cannot pay. The other servants complain to the master creditor (a good way to deal with injustice) about the harshness of the first man. The original creditor calls the big debtor in and angrily restores the debt and announces that he will be delivered to the torturers until the whole debt is paid. Jesus comments simply and powerfully on this incredible story by saying: "So, my heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses." (Matthew 18:35) The reality and symbolism is unforgettable.

Perfect Health

This brings me to a belief that has grown in my heart through the years as I have seen the debate over how we produce health in people, especially what we call "mental health." I am convinced that forgiveness is the secret to wholeness of spirit and soul. Consequently, it seems to me "The Lord's Prayer" when prayed with understanding restores or improves man's relationship with God and with his world.

A key buzzword today is "victimization." Criminals often plead innocence claiming they merely respond to a bad early life. In other words, "I�m not guilty of making you a victim, since I'm just a victim." Others harbor resentment and bitterness that destroy relationships and disease personalities. They would claim that they are only the victims of the evil actions of other people. However, let me set forth a belief that I find totally Scriptural: No one who forgives can ever be a victim The man who forgives frees himself completely from the bondage of anyone's past action toward him. Do you realize how many current wars would not exist if forgiveness existed in the hearts of people? Do you realize how healthy the forgiver becomes? Do you realize how much mind and spirit time is released for profitable use whenever someone releases bitterness and resentment to a spirit of forgiveness?

Forgiveness is not only a way of doing what is right and best for others, (as in the others-centered Nature of Jesus) but it is the finest possible thing we can do for ourselves. Nothing, I repeat nothing, profits from unforgiveness. Yet we hang on to our grievances as if forgiving were an indication of weakness. The fact is, only those who know the creator and choose to be h4 in him can forgive.

Until we understood germs, the unwashed hands of a surgeon guaranteed death for half of his patients. Unforgiveness on our part is like having unwashed hands in our ministry to others. We only spread disease. The forgiveness of God is either funneled through us to others or else shielded from our own reception by our unforgiveness. It cannot be bottled.

If we funnel it through, it cleans us and gives us health and provides clean hands for us to heal others. Forgiveness also frees a person to receive the benefits of the other great health producer of Scripture. Jesus said that if we want to find our lives (be whole), we must lose them. Unless we are free from the bondage of bitterness, we cannot give attention to losing our lives. Because of the destructive results of unforgiveness (preventing God's forgiveness of us), some people believe that unforgiveness is the "sin unto death" of 1 John 5:16. If firmness is required in a relationship, forgive first or else we suffer from the sin of anger. If discipline is required, forgive first, so that the action will be redemptive rather than merely retributive.

Perfect Finale

When Jesus hung on the cross, there remained one possibility for sin that would have nullified his sacrifice. Jesus could have responded to this miserable mocking crowd with anger and vengeance, but he didn't. Instead, his first words on the cross swept clear all possible final sin, "Father forgive them, they don't know what they are doing." Jesus, nailed to the cross, was the freest person of all.

Jesus could have ended his mission in perfect misery, but he chose the path of his Father. As in the story of the unforgiving servant, the finale was to be turned over to the torturers until he paid the last penny. How powerfully symbolic.

Even passing observation reveals that unforgiving people live tortured lives. Payment for such debt remains beyond our means. Tortured people cannot pay. They only go further into debt. Only one door remains for freedom from torture-forgiveness.

Perfect Love

To the degree we sense our own forgiveness we offer the same to others. If, from our own pride, we feel that our sins are minimal and we did God more of a favor to come to him than he did in forgiving us, then we will treat others with a harshness ungodly in itself. In Luke 7, Jesus spoke very plainly to a Pharisee named Simon that whoever is forgiven little loves little and whoever is forgiven much loves much.

Simon must have been stung in the presence of the "much sinning" woman who obviously loved more because she knew the truth about her own sinfulness. Simon denied the truth about himself, thus felt little to forgive and offered no forgiveness to others. Perhaps, when we see a harsh and unforgiving person, we also see a proud and arrogant person. Humility causes us to see the truth about ourselves and drives us to our knees in repentance.

Perfect Prayer

God wants to hear from and speak to his children, so prayer is far more powerful than any natural force' known to man. Nuclear bombs pale at the power of prayer. One simple thing blocks this awesome power: unforgiveness. Jesus clearly stated, "And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses." God is not impressed with our repetition or intensity in prayer and certainly not in our traditions or positions of prayer. However, the position of the heart-kneeling, forgiving-opens the door of heaven in many ways. Proper praying calls for the very best for our enemies-the kind of prayer we would want prayed for us.

Perfect Contrast

Today's output of stage and screen bears fault for immorality, violence and greed. (You can also substitute the word" government" for "stage and screen.") But one largely overlooked ungodliness is the bent for vengeance rather than justice or forgiveness. Few writers seek to achieve justice for justice sake. Justice, you see, ultimately rests on the belief that some things are simply right and some things are simply wrong. Since God alone offers such a firm moral position, and God is foreign to the sinful heart, the only acceptable position for secular consumption is vengeance.

Heros are no longer heros because they fought for what was right. They are heros simply because they won by gaining vengeance. Today's society applauds that and fills theaters to affirm its approval. Politics reveals its heart in one of its laws of operation. "Don't get mad, get even!" The forgiveness of Jesus stands in perfect contrast to the world view. However, some great writers have been touched by the master forgiver. At the recommendation of Phil Nelson, a dear friend in Chicago, Ada and I went to the stage production of "les Miserables" by Victor Hugo when it came to our town. This powerful story of the converting effect of forgiveness and grace upon a person so moved us. When it was over, we waited for the crowd to leave so I would not be embarrassed for letting them see this foolish old man crying.


So, as the days grow short to the end of history, our way of living becomes more valuable. Paul in Colossians 3 says: "Forgive, just as the Father forgave you...and wrap all of this with love." (my paraphrase) Clear enough!