The right perspective on forgiveness

The right perspective on forgiveness

Have you ever slammed your finger in a door? Or stubbed your toe? The pain is immediate and significant. At that point in time, you cannot think of anything else. The whole world is reduced to the pain in your finger or toe. Nothing else seems to matter. After a while, when the pain subsides, you realise that while it wasn’t a pleasant experience, it no longer dominates your thinking.

Pain does that to us: it reduces our perspective. When we are in pain, whether physical or emotional, all we care about at that point is the pain we feel. We are not in the mood for philosophical discussions and we cannot put things in the correct perspective. Our pain is the most important thing in the world to us while we feel it.

With that in mind, let’s look at the parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18. This story hinges on the idea of perspective. Jesus told his disciples about a servant who had a debt of ten thousand talents forgiven by a merciful king. This is a stupendous amount of money. It is difficult to convert exactly into modern terms because a talent was technically a weight (around 30kg) and not a unit of currency; it varied in value depending on the material being weighed. If we assume the talent was of silver, each one would be worth about 6000 denarii, roughly twenty years’ pay for a day labourer. If we take current minimum rates of pay, the debt forgiven by the merciful king would be several billion dollars. Yes, billions, not millions. The amount is astoundingly great, and to have that debt forgiven shows the incredible mercy of the king.

This is a picture of the gospel. We are all sinners who have a debt before God due to our rebellion. That debt is massive, something we could never repay. We are only ever going to be right with God if he forgives the debt. It is easy for us to think too highly of ourselves, as if we’re pretty good with a few bad aspects. This parable reveals our true situation: we are lost and need mercy. We have truly been forgiven much.

Why does Jesus use such a massive number when he describes the debt the servant owes to the king? Because it makes sense of the forgiveness we need to show other believers. The parable goes on to describe the forgiven servant then encountering a fellow servant who owed him a hundred denarii. That’s a reasonable amount of money, around three months’ pay for a day labourer. At the minimum wage in Australia, that’s around ten thousand dollars. That is a significant debt. The first servant would miss that money and it would be difficult for most people to repay. The first servant has not learnt the lesson of his own debt being forgiven, and he shows no mercy to his brother, demanding he repay the debt.

The parable’s message is clear: we must forgive our brothers. It will hurt us, it will cost us, but if we see things in the perspective of what God has done for us, we have no choice. In fact, Jesus calls it such a central issue that the unforgiving servant is under the judgement of God. His actions have revealed that he did not appreciate his forgiveness, and he is outside God’s mercy.

This all hinges on perspective. The debt the second servant owed the first one was significant. And often, the hurt other people have caused us is significant. I do not want to downplay those who have been seriously hurt by others, those damaged by assault, abuse, domestic violence and other terrible things. This parable is clear on that: the hurt others might cause us, the debt they have accumulated, may well be large. And in the midst of that pain, we cannot possibly see how we could forgive them. We are too hurt. It is like slamming our finger in the door. We lie awake thinking about how unfair our situation is. We dwell on our pain. And we cannot see or even consider forgiveness if it is up to us.

Jesus tells us to expand our perspective. That is hard to do when we are in pain. Yet Jesus has forgiven us something far worse that anything that might have been done to us. It is so much bigger as several billion dollars is bigger than ten thousand dollars. If we are forgiven people, and that forgiveness came at the cost of the death of the Son of God, then we must forgive. Even when it hurts.

Forgiveness is difficult, but it is not impossible. It is not an optional extra for Christian people. If you have someone that has spring to mind reading this who you have never made any effort to reconcile with or forgive, pray about that. Think of what has been done for you. Think about what God has done for you and what state you’d be in if God only thought of his pain and never acted to deal with our debt.

Forgiveness is difficult, but our God is a God who loves to bless our actions to reconcile. We have a God who knows the pain of bearing the cost of those who have hurt Him.