In Chapter 5 of his book, The Good and Beautiful Community, James Bryan Smith talks about “The Reconciling Community”, one which forgives readily and lives healed, healthy lives. He expounds on The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant.
You may know the story: The servant has a huge debt that he owes his master, and the master tells him that he’s going to lock up the servant and his entire family until he can pay the debt. But the servant pleads for mercy and the master relents and gives him more than he deserves: freedom. Free from debt and freedom from being a servant any longer.
Then the forgiven servant immediately goes to someone who owes him money and, instead of paying it forward, he demands repayment. The master hears of this atrocity and brings the forgiven servant back, reprimands him and throws him and his family back in jail to be tortured. The lesson is simple for us: Because we have been forgiven, we should forgive. (See Matthew 18:21-35)
But James Bryan Smith points out two things:
First, we don’t forgive to feel better. We are told that if we would just forgive, it would help us heal. But forgiveness is not therapy. In some situations, it seems impossible to forgive. That’s because it is — in our own power. We can’t will ourselves to forgive.
Because of the work on The Cross, we have been healed. We have been forgiven of our sins and all the collateral damage that sin brought into our lives. From that healing – in Christ – we have the power to forgive. We forgive from our healed hearts. We don’t forgive to be healed. We are healed and therefore, have the power to forgive.
His second point is where the healing comes from, at least for me. In the story above, the unmerciful servant was originally forgiven a HUGE debt. He could have worked the rest of his life and still not paid the debt. The debt was huge and he got more than the debt being wiped clean… he and his family were given their freedom!
In comparison, the debt of the one who owed this servant money was miniscule. James Bryan Smith points out that the first debt is over 600,000 times larger than the smaller debt.
Meditate on that for a moment. The things that we have been forgiven of (and that we will be forgiven of in our lifetime) are overwhelmingly huge. As James Bryan Smith says, “The point is clear: we have forgiven for so much more than we will ever be called on to forgive.” But not only has the slate been wiped clean, we get the Kingdom, too!
This is not be glossed over. This is a point to be pondered and internalized. And this is where the power to forgive comes from. As we get this narrative deep down within us, we receive healing and out of that healing, we find the power in Christ to forgive.
This does not minimize the deplorable things that have been done to you and me, whether it be adultery, sexual abuse, rape, or even the murder of family or friends. But as you and I meditate on how much we have been forgiven, we find the grace we need to forgive.
Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:31-32)