It’s often argued that we should forgive because we will feel better. “Not forgiving is like eating rat poison and waiting for the rat to die,” said Anne Lamott. Forgiving is good for us; not forgiving is toxic to the soul. Some call this the therapeutic argument for forgiveness.
It’s true that forgiveness is good for you, but that is certainly not the biblical basis for forgiveness. The biblical basis for forgiveness is gospel: that God has forgiven us. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)
The most powerful example of this is the parable of the unmerciful servant told by Jesus in Matthew 18:21-35. A servant is forgiven a debt of ten thousand talents by a king. That servant, however, refuses to forgive a debt of a hundred denarii – 1/600,000th of what he had been forgiven. It boggles the mind that one could be forgiven for such an astronomical debt, and then refuse to forgive a relatively small debt.
Jesus reports how the king responded: “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” The unmerciful servant was then thrown in jail. Jesus concludes, “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
The biblical basis for forgiving others is gospel. It’s remembering how much God has forgiven us. A failure to forgive indicates a failure to grasp the gospel, which is why Jesus says such harsh things about those who refuse to forgive. “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15)
Earlier next week I’d like to look at the differences between God’s forgiveness and ours.