By Roger Campbell
Sitting at my computer, I pondered how to answer a letter from a bitter man; bitter because he refused to let go of an attitude that was robbing him of the joy of living.
Wronged by a member of his family many years earlier, this angry writer had composed a blistering letter to the relative he felt had contributed to a family breakup from which he had never recovered. Now he had sent a copy of this letter for me to read before mailing it to his supposed enemy.
He wrote well. But the content of his letter revealed the identity of his real enemy: himself. He refused to forgive the one he blamed for his problems and this had been perpetuating his misery for years. In spite of efforts I had made in the past to help this bitter man break free from anger, he had kept coddling his contentiousness and as a result his emotional wounds refused to heal.
Millions, like my cold correspondent, move through life shackled to their sulking because they are unwilling to forgive.How can we forgive those who’ve wronged us deeply?
Here’s a more difficult question to answer: How can we keep on forgiving when the offense is repeated again and again?
Peter once came to Jesus and asked how many times he should forgive one who had offended him. Seven times seemed sufficient to Peter, but his Lord told him to multiply that number by seventy, calling for His questioning disciple to forgive 490 times. Actually, Peter was being taught to just keep on forgiving. One who has forgiven 490 times has developed a healthy habit of living in a forgiving way.
Following this challenging lesson on forgiveness, Peter was told about a king who discovered one of his trusted servants had borrowed heavily from the royal coffers and owed him a large amount of money. Since the servant couldn’t pay what he owed, the king ordered that his family be sold into slavery and the money applied to his huge outstanding debt. Later, however, the king had a change of heart and forgave the servant, canceling his entire obligation.
Upon being forgiven, the ungrateful servant found one of his friends who owed him a small amount of money (about fifteen dollars) and threatened to have him thrown into prison if he didn’t pay up immediately (Matthew 18:23-25). This parable teaches the first principle of forgiveness: we must forgive because we have been forgiven. But another important dimension to the lesson is added: we have never been wronged to the extent that we have wronged God. Since He offers to forgive us, we are obligated to do the same for others.
A free flow of forgiveness would revive most churches and revitalize many marriages. Barriers erected long ago would fall. Warm embraces would replace cold stares. Nursing an old wound grieves God and barricades His blessings.
Let it go!
Roger Campbell is an author, a broadcaster and columnist who was a pastor for 22 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org