Saturday, 28 January 2012

Give Me A Chance, and I'll Pay it All Back

Photo Credit: Evan Leeson
http://www.flickr.com/people/ecstaticist/
The grey cloud of unforgiveness?
There is a lot of stuff that man has put out there under the guise of Christianity. Sometimes it’s hard to know just what to believe. Solomon was right when he said, “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him” (Proverbs 18:17; ESV). How do we wade through it all? How do we, as a friend of mine likes to say, “chew on the meat and spit out the bones?” Augustine said, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”

Today I was reminded again of something that Heavenly Father takes very seriously. It is, I believe, one of those “essentials.” What is that? I’m taking about “Forgiveness.” Jesus said, 
“So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” (Matthew 18:35; ESV). 
What will the Father do to us if we don’t forgive others from our hearts? Let’s look at how Eugene Peterson paints the picture in “The Message.”
“The kingdom of God is like a king who decided to square accounts with his servants. As he got underway, one servant was brought before him who had run up a debt of a hundred thousand dollars. He couldn’t pay up, so the king ordered the man, along with his wife, children, and goods, to be auctioned off at the slave market.
“The poor wretch threw himself at the king’s feet and begged, ‘Give me a chance and I’ll pay it all back.’ Touched by his plea, the king let him off, erasing the debt.
“The servant was no sooner out of the room when he came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him ten dollars. He seized him by the throat and demanded, ‘Pay up. Now!’
“The poor wretch threw himself down and begged, ‘Give me a chance and I’ll pay it all back.’ But he wouldn’t do it. He had him arrested and put in jail until the debt was paid. When the other servants saw this going on, they were outraged and brought a detailed report to the king. 
“The king summoned the man and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave your entire debt when you begged me for mercy. Shouldn’t you be compelled to be merciful to your fellow servant who asked for mercy?’ The king was furious and put the screws to the man until he paid back his entire debt. And that is exactly what my Father in heaven is going to do to each one of you who doesn’t forgive unconditionally anyone who asks for mercy.”
There is so much that we could unpack from this story, but I’m only going to nibble at it a little. Does this story imply that we will not be forgiven? No, for in Christ we have already been forgiven. Does the story teach that if we fail to forgive others, the wrath of God will still come our way, despite our having already been forgiven? That does seem possible.

It is interesting that the word that the ESV translates as “jailers” in verse 34 comes from the Greek word for “torturers.” Does that mean that our loving God will send a child that He has already forgiven to be “tortured?” That does seem a little inconsistent with His nature, and yet figuratively Jesus does seem to be saying just that.

Maybe we would do well to think of the word “tortured” in the context of “the Lord disciplines the one he loves and chastises every son whom he receives” (Hebrews 12:6; ESV). It may very well be that, in love, God gives us a season in jail and in the hands of the “torturers” in order to teach us what He deems to be an important lesson. Though we might be tempted to view the “tortures” as evil from others, maybe the truth is more in line with what Joseph said to his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good” (Genesis 50:20; NIV).

God loves you and me dearly, but He also expects us to love one another. That love includes mercifully forgiving each other’s faults. It’s not a case of God’s love being conditional, but of God having expectations of His children. It is no different than any parent expecting their children to play nicely together as siblings. As a child, whenever I beat up my little brothers, I could expect a good old fashioned spanking from my dad. I know that dad still loved me, despite my sore rear end. The spanking was always a lesson learned; dad expected his children to behave in a certain fashion. You and I are siblings in God’s family and God expects us to play nicely together too. Failure to do that may also result in punishment.

It’s important to remember that the forgiveness that we offer others must be genuine and “from the heart.” Anything less does not count as true forgiveness. Anything less becomes conditional. It is also important to know that what is in our hearts will be revealed by our actions. In other words, people are not fools; the heart is easily read through our actions and our body language. Certainly, God is not fooled.

So what comes out of your heart when I have wronged you? What comes out of my heart when you have wronged me? Do we offer each other only a cheap and worthless form of pseudo-forgiveness that, I might add, any fool can see through? Or do we really forgive each other from the depths of our hearts? I think Jesus spelled it out pretty clearly exactly what the Father is interested in. True forgiveness of each other is one of the essentials of the Christian faith.

Anyway, that's the way I see it.

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