There are many things about Christianity that are unique. One of the most important of these is the Christian concept of forgiveness. No other religious or philosophical system emphasizes the power to forgive that we see in Jesus.
As an atheist living in an atheist home, I saw the emphasis on survival and “getting even.” One of our favorite sayings was, “Fool me once, shame on you – fool me twice, shame on me.” In opposition to that view, Peter asked Jesus how many times we should forgive someone who sins against us. Thinking he was being generous, Peter asked, “Up to 7 times?” Jesus responded with, “…seventy times seven.” In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:12-15, Jesus taught that our forgiveness by God was dependent on our forgiving of others. The various forms of the word “forgive” occur 143 times in the Bible.
All of us have known people who carry a grudge for years and years. Long ago, I was working with two older men on a project in a basement. I had been told that these two men had not spoken to each other for 30 years because of a conflict they had with each other. One of them fell off a ladder and was hanging from a pipe. The other man was standing there looking at him when I got there and helped him down. The guy hanging wasn’t going to ask for help, and the other guy wasn’t going to help unless asked. When I asked them what had caused the problem neither of them could tell me. They hadn’t spoken to each other for 30 years, but neither of them knew why.
Grudges, bad memories, conflict, and unkind words and thoughts can eat you alive. Mental illness is sometimes rooted in problems with forgiveness. Sometimes it’s because we are unable to forgive ourselves. We need to understand that Christ died to give us the power to forgive. Even if we struggle to forgive ourselves, we need to realize that God “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work in us..” (Ephesians 3:20-21).
We sometimes read of a Christian forgiving a person who killed their loved one, and we think, “How could they do that?” Don’t underestimate what Jesus can do. Unlike other religious leaders, Jesus demonstrated the power to forgive, and He expects to do the same. Remember that as Jesus was being crucified, he cried out, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
— John N. Clayton © 2020