God through Moses, as he wrote Deuteronomy chapter fifteen explains the treatment of slaves. They were to serve seven years to pay off their debt. They would work six years and the seventh year the master was to forgive them their debt and set them free. During Jeremiah’s time, they would set free the slaves the seventh year only to make them slaves again.
We do the same thing sometimes when we forgive. I have done it a lot in my past the, “I’ll forgive them this time but…” We put all kinds of conditions on the forgiveness. “… they better not do that again.” “… only if they change.” When we do this we haven’t truly forgiven them. Not only do we enslave them waiting for the next time but we become enslaved ourselves to bitterness, anger, revenge and the list goes on.
It is hard to do, I know all too well. Years of verbal, mental, and emotional abuse by my dad, day in and day out was hard. I fell into the trap of “I’ll forgive this time but the next time…” Even started counting my way to seventy times seven so that I would have an excuse as to why I didn’t have to forgive. Bitterness and anger grew deep inside, eventually destroyed the relationship. I was tired of being constantly hurt.
How do we forgive and not fall into the enslavement trap?
Forgiveness does not mean ignoring what has been done or putting a false label on an evil act. It means, rather, that the evil act no longer remains as a barrier to the relationship. Forgiveness is a catalyst creating the atmosphere necessary for a fresh start and a new beginning. It is the lifting of a burden or the cancelling of a debt.
Martin Luther King
What a powerful statement by Martin Luther King. True forgiveness doesn’t enslave either party but sets both free no matter the act that needs to be forgiven.
Take a look of one of the few statements Jesus spoke on the cross. After being beaten, flogged, nailed to the cross — Jesus looked down at the Roman soldiers, who were just following orders, and in Luke 23:34 ESV, said,
Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.
He didn’t curse them or ask God to strike them dead as He endured the agony of the cross. He forgave them and wanted His Father to forgive them too. There was to be no barrier between them and God so that they can know true forgiveness, as we see with the soldier who pierced His side in his confession of faith in God as he claimed Jesus was the Son of God.
Do I have to forgive and forget?
The best answer I found is in the book Reading the Bible With Rabbi Jesus by Lois Tverberg. In it, she digs into the Hebrew and explains the meaning behind the words forget and not to remember. The first thing she explains is the fact, Hebrew focus on the action, not the mental state. Next, in Hebrew, the word forget is hardly used sin.
In Isaiah 43:25 ESV,
I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.
God states He will not remember our sins. We know God is just to punish us for our sins, so when He says that He will not remember our sins, it means He will not take punish us for the sins.
Since the memory of the offense doesn’t ever go away there are three points Lois makes to deal with it better.
- When we choose to extend love, we no longer seek revenge.
- We need to choose to forgive the person for the offense even when it pops up in our minds over and over.
- The more we love each other the easier it is to erase the memory from our minds.
This might sound opposite of what I said about the offense never really goes away. Look at it in light of 1 Peter 4:8 ESV,
Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.
It is in this verse that we can understand why love can erase the memory. First of all the most important thing is to keep loving each other. That can be the hardest thing to do when someone has hurt us because it is our nature to get back or even.put up walls so that person can’t hurt us again. Yet, God says we are to keep on loving that person earnestly. Look at what Collins Dictionary says.
If you do something earnestly, you do it in a thorough and serious way, intending to succeed.
This is not a casual, “Love you.” as you see someone you know it is intentional love seeking the success of the relationship.
I the last part we see that love covers a multitude of sins. This is what erases the memory of the offense. Love covers the hurt and the more love we put over the hurt the more it is erased from our memory. Like in school when you did a math problem and made a mistake and you had to erase it to make a correction but one swipe doesn’t get rid of it you have to rub it several times. Even then it is not completely gone. The same thing when we forgive with love sometimes it takes several times to forgive with the eraser of love before we can hardly remember the hurt. That is what happens when you forgive seventy times seven.