Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:21-22 ESV)
We know that Jesus can forgive every sin committed in the past, present, and future. Just as he forgives us, he requires that we also forgive others. That can certainly be difficult, especially if the offense was extremely hurtful. But the good news is that God can heal that within you, and he knows how to deal with the people who have wronged you.
Forgiveness does not come easy at first because we don’t want our offenders to get away with anything. I personally want vengeance and would rather seek justice on my own. I want my enemies to feel the same pain they afflicted on me. But God said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” and he wants me to leave the work of judgment to him (Romans 12:19).
Does forgiveness mean that I have to trust that person? Absolutely not! Once a trust is broken, it needs to be earned back. In fact, we can choose to forgive and part ways if that is indeed the healthiest decision.
The point of forgiving someone seventy-seven times is really not about the number. It’s about the slow transformation of your heart over the issue. Initially, that person’s sin controls you because you react with raw anger and sadness. But when you try to forgive, what happens is that the emotions start to dissipate until that person’s sin no longer triggers a negative response in you.
That is when true healing begins because the Lord helps you see past that person’s behavior and realize he is reacting to his own personal hurts. Dr. Rick Warren has often said, “Hurt people, hurt people.” And once we get to a point of understanding that, then we have grown to be a little more merciful and forgiving. Now there are many painful experiences, some even traumatic that make it harder for us to recover. In those instances, seeking professional help is highly recommended preferably combined with good Christian counseling.
God does not want us to remain in our hurts because they diminish our ability to enjoy anything. Misery is our own self-imposed prison because we want to hang on to anger and grudges. They say misery loves company, and I think it’s because she sits in the jail cell alone where nobody wants to visit her.
Forgiveness is not about downplaying the severity of the offense, willful forgetting, or letting the person off the hook. It’s choosing not to let their sin have control over you. You release them from your desire to punish them and leave that up to God. And when you let God decide their outcome, it frees you to heal and become stronger. You become a much more sensible person because you are tuned in to whatever God wants for you and not focused on whether true justice has been served.
So yes, I am in complete agreement with Jesus on this one. Forgive the sinner seventy-seven times if that is what it takes to break you out of that human cage. A free Christian is a dangerous one because she can do some serious damage to Satan and his plans for this world.