As We Forgive “Them”

Remember the parable about a servant whose master forgave him a massive debt in Matthew18:22-35? Instead of imitating his master, the servant required full payment from his own debtor. Furious at his servant’s lack of compassion, the master called him back “and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him.”

My pastor brought something to my attention recently. Until he was forgiven, the servant faced indentured servitude. When he failed to forgive someone else, he faced torture.

Gulp. Forgiveness is apparently serious business.

My pastor likened grudge-holding to Halloween candy. At first, it tastes supremely satisfying. Before long, however, that sweet indulgence creates a stomach-curdling reaction in our bodies as they work to expel the excess. The pain doesn’t stop us from wanting more “sugar.” We pick those offenses right back up and roll them around in our minds, tasting and re-tasting the damage they caused. Every dip of our hand into the candy bag brings up a fresh batch of torture.

Now, I’ve learned forgiveness will set my heart free, but that knowledge doesn’t always strengthen me enough to do it. Sometimes I just can’t get past the thought of my offender going unpunished.

Hang on or let go?

My insides battle like Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty at Reichenbach Falls. Somebody’s going down in this fight, and if I can’t let go of my Moriarty, we’re going down together. I struggle on a mental cliff, my hands around my enemy’s throat, considering whether or not to let go. Am I really ready to not only forgive but see the Lord forgive him too?

Jonah knows how I feel. God sent him to Nineveh—the capital of a nation known for cruelty. Assyrians habitually amputated limbs, gouged out eyes, and skinned and impaled those they conquered. Israel was often in their crosshairs and Jonah knew them well.

When God asked him to offer salvation to his enemies, Jonah did everything he could to resist. When he finally yielded and delivered God’s message, he got to watch his worst nightmare play out. Nineveh repented and God extended mercy.

“God! I knew it—when I was back home, I knew this was going to happen! That’s why I ran off to Tarshish! I knew you were — ready at the drop of a hat to turn your plans of punishment into a program of forgiveness!”[1] Fuming at the unfairness, Jonah sat under his vine — until it withered. The torture he’d suffered from his internal heat was magnified by the beat of the blazing sun above.

Most of us know the Lord’s Prayer by heart. We know the part asking God to forgive us as we forgive others. But sometimes unforgiveness traps us in a cycle difficult to break.

So what do you do when your grip is too tight on your enemy’s throat? What helps you to shake loose and let go? Leave a comment below and maybe we can help one another break free.

[1]  Peterson, E. H. (2005). The Message: the Bible in contemporary language (Jon 4:2). Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.

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