Written by Will Brown
I love giving presents on Christmas morning. There’s an undeniable joy in watching someone’s face light up with excitement as they tear through the wrapping paper and open up something they’ve been wanting for months. Major holidays or life events have a way of invoking this kind of generosity, but it can be a daunting task to carry out a similar heart attitude in everyday life. Whether it’s paying for a stranger’s coffee, dropping someone off at a bus stop outside of your normal route, or lending a friend your phone charger when you’re both hanging on to the last five per cent of life — there are times when it’s harder to give freely and generously. This is especially true, in my opinion, when it comes to forgiveness.
True forgiveness is highlighted in Matthew 18:21-22: “Then Peter came to Jesus and said, ‘Lord, how many times may my brother sin against me and I forgive him, up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I tell you, not seven times but seventy times seven!’” For those of you who didn’t just pull out your calculator (or drop out of Grade 12 math like I did), seven times 70 equals 490. Sometimes I see this number and sometimes think, ‘Hmm, almost five hundred strikes before I need to be worried.’ Other times I tremble at the thought of what happens once I reach the 491st sin.
Many times throughout scripture, Jesus uses a quantifiable measurement to illustrate something immeasurable. We are given a number so that our brains can attempt to understand the beauty and greatness of His grace. I’m the first to admit that if we were keeping score, my four hundred and ninety sins would add up relatively quickly. However, we serve a God who keeps no record of wrongs (1 Corinthians 13:4-5).
I recently watched Silence, starring Andrew Garfield and Liam Neeson. Andrew Garfield plays Father Sebastian Rodrigues, a Catholic priest who voyages to Japan to find his missing mentor, Father Cristóvão Ferreira (Liam Neeson), and continue his ministry, which has been outlawed in other Asian countries. As Father Rodrigues travels through Japan, he is guided by Kichijiro, a Japanese smuggler who was once a Christian but renounced his faith to escape execution. On several occasions, Kichijiro is captured by Japanese dictators. To avoid punishment, he renounces his faith by stomping and spitting on an image of Jesus.
Despite his failings, Kichijiro comes back to Father Rodrigues for confession and to ask forgiveness for his sins. I won’t lie to you, Kichijro was like a villain to me. He was selfish, unreliable, and cowardly. He prayed the prayers, said the right things but when it came down to it, he jumped ship. One of the reasons why I disliked Kichijiro’s character so much is that I see a lot of myself in him. I can’t imagine the number of times I have come to the Lord, repeatedly asking for His forgiveness for the same sins.
Since I am His child, I am loved and accepted by Him. I belong to Him. I am forgiven. Good deeds will never earn me a place in Heaven. The only thing that washes me white as snow is the blood of Jesus that was shed on the cross.
Forgiveness is meant to draw us closer to the Father. Similarly, it is meant to draw us closer to each other. I mentioned earlier how sometimes it’s easy to give and other times it is more difficult. Easiness is always attractive, but that’s not what God promises us or calls us to. If we truly desire to be more like God, chasing after His heart and living the life He has called us to, we must learn to forgive as freely and frequently as He does.
When we are sinned against, it hurts. However, as Christians, we take refuge in knowing we have a Father who protects us and comforts us in times of trial. How can we understand the significance and beauty of Christ’s sacrifice if we do not share in His sufferings? How can we begin to comprehend the magnitude and significance of the forgiveness of our sins if we don’t recognize what He endured for us? If Jesus is our model, forgiveness should be the foundation of our faith.
We are put on this earth to love. To be unloving or unforgiving is to fail at the very thing we were created for. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you,” Ephesians 4:32. When we choose forgiveness, we choose the way forward. The veil has been torn, the tomb has been emptied, the debt has been paid. All that is left is learning to receive and give the same love He showed for us.