I can think of few things that pierce our hearts as painfully or wound our pride as deeply as the thought of forgiving a wrong. It can feel so very...unjust to let someone off the hook, especially when they haven't even acknowledged how much they've hurt us.
And yet...again and again the Scriptures command us to do it. Throughout the Tanak, God establishes Himself as the God of forgiveness (Leviticus 4, Psalm 103, Jeremiah 31:31-34,). And then, in the New Testament, Jesus revolutionizes the idea of forgiveness by telling His disciples that they too will have to forgive (Matthew 6:12). He adds insult to injury by telling us that if we refuse to forgive, the Father won't forgive our sins (Matthew 6:14-15 and 18:35). I don't think this is so much a cruel ultimatum as it is an indictment of the condition of our hearts. If our hearts are soft toward God and receptive of His grace, that grace will abound as we forgive others. As my pastor exclaimed in a bellowing voice in Sunday school a few weeks ago, "GRACE. ALWAYS. BEARS. FRUIT!"
And who is more justified in asking us to forgive than our Lord Jesus? As I've sought God this year in the process of forgiving a dear friend who has greatly wronged me, He's been faithful to bring to mind the picture of Jesus on the Cross. As I gaze on His suffering--the cancellation of my debts at His expense--the wrongs committed against me pale in comparison. How petty and foolish to cling to unforgiveness in light of the lavish grace that's been given to me! Surely I have grace to give. The bounty I've received provides an excess to spare (John 1:16, 1 Timothy 1:14).
Two things have become clear to me as I've lingered over this image of Jesus:
1.) Forgiveness always comes at significant personal cost. Perhaps the statement in Hebrews that "without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness" (v. 9:22) is not only literal, but figurative. Forgiveness will always be costly to us. Just as Christ died on the Cross to show us grace, we too, will have to die--to ourselves--in order to show grace to those around us. (See Romans 12:9-21.)
2.) Forgiveness identifies us with Christ. After Christ's death and resurrection, the early believers understood that they, too, would suffer to be made like Christ. (Acts 9:15-17, Romans 8:17, 2 Corinthians 1:5, Philippians 3:10-11, 2 Thessalonians 1:5). And what brought about the suffering of our Savior? His readiness to forgive our sin! So there is no better way for us to be identified with Him than when we forgive, and especially when we forgive those who do not know the depth of their wrongdoing against us. As we learn to cry out with Christ, "Father, forgive them; they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34), we are transformed into His image, a spectacle bearing witness to the gospel of grace.
In light of this, is there anything so lovely as forgiveness?!
My heart grows light every time I read Psalm 103:1-12:
1 Praise the LORD, O my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
2 Praise the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits-
3 who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
5 who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.
6 The LORD works righteousness
and justice for all the oppressed.
7 He made known his ways to Moses,
his deeds to the people of Israel:
8 The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
9 He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
--2 Corinthians 9:8