The unforgiving Christian

Published 7:41 pm Thursday, August 8, 2019


Religion Columnist

When people come to me for spiritual guidance and healing, the most common emotional and spiritual issue they deal with is forgiveness. It is common for the person to not even realize how the unwillingness to forgive has crippled them emotionally and spiritually.  Sometimes, the person will experience physical healing after they have a chance to forgive and let go of a long-held grudge, offense or sin against them. 

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This should come as no surprise if you are studying your Bible carefully. Jesus spends a lot of time teaching about the importance and power of forgiveness. Jesus tells the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 15:21-35, after Peter asks if we should forgive someone seven times for sinning against us. Seven times seems like a lot to most Christian Americans. 

Christians can be very un-Christian, after all:  The nursery attendant says something mean about your child;  a church member doesn’t appreciate your dish at the pot-luck; the pastor doesn’t pay as much attention to you as someone else; a church leader commits some sexual sin or the pastor commits some sexual sin. Who wants to go to a church where you have to learn to forgive people?

Jesus tells of a servant who owes the king an immense amount of money. By modern standards, it would be about $4.5 billion.  Of course, the man cannot pay what he owes the king, so the king prepares to sell the man and his family into slavery.  The man begs the king for mercy, and receives it.  This is an example of how much we owe God for all of our sins, a debt we can never repay.  We beg God for mercy, and we receive it.  For canceling such a debt, we should be eternally grateful, and desire to do whatever the king asks us to do. 

Jesus then tells how this same servant went and found someone who owed him the equivalent of about $4000 in today’s money.  The man begs for mercy, but does not receive it.  The man who couldn’t pay the debt is thrown into prison. The actions of this unforgiving servant become known to the king who arrests the servant, throws him in jail and instructs the jailor to torture him until he can pay the $4.5 billion debt. 

The message is clear. God’s mercy for us through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, for all our sins, should fill us with such joy and thankfulness that we can forgive anyone else any sin they commit against us.  There is no room for offense for the Christian. None. His desire to forgive us is an example of the kind of mercy we are to show all other people, no matter how bad we think their sins are. 

I think most Christians know this is true, so we lie to ourselves. We pretend that the reason we can’t forgive someone is something else.  We forgive them, we just choose to move to another church, so we don’t have to be around them.  We deceive ourselves into believing our forgiveness is sincere, when our actions betray our true unwillingness to forgive. Over time, this unforgiveness leads us to wonder why we feel so tortured, just like in the parable.  Then, we seek spiritual healing, and realize we have been lying to ourselves.  The lies don’t free us from the torture that comes with holding grudges and offenses. 

Sometimes the grudges and offenses grow out of terrible sins committed against us. When we are mentally, emotionally or physically abused this can be the case.  Do not be afraid to seek help from someone you trust if this is the case.  A trained counselor may be necessary for you to experience the freedom God desires you to have. 

Most other times the grudges and offenses are of the petty variety.  Just about any time you are thinking of leaving your church, or not going back to church, this is probably the case. God is busy teaching you how to forgive and love your enemies, and you are busy lying to yourself, running away from discomfort and looking for an easy faith. 

Is there someone you are struggling to forgive? Do you lie to yourself to not have to forgive others? Is there someone at the church you don’t like? Do you even have a church where you can learn to forgive people in a safe place? If you don’t have a church, why did you leave your church? Forgiveness is of eternal importance to Jesus. It needs to be that important to us as well.

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