Consumer debt is a tricky thing. Credit cards allow us to buy things we want today using tomorrow’s money; which not a great idea generally! Often the interest rate is high. Too many people get themselves buried in debt when they cannot pay anything but the minimum amount due. The interest continues to accumulate, compounding negatively.
Emotional debts can be like that, too. When we drag around old resentments, if we try to borrow tomorrow’s joy, we can find ourselves buried in emotional debt, a captive of unwise relational choices.
Jesus shows us a better way. In the Sermon on the Mount, we read these tough words that ask us to trust God to help us to make difficult decisions. “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.” (Matthew 5:21-26, NIV)
The Lord reminds us that keeping our emotional accounts settled up is a critically important choice. We cannot justify our hate, our resentment, our bitterness towards others by saying, “Well, I didn’t kill them; even though I wish I could!” He tells us that allowing ourselves to think of others with contempt is emotionally corrosive and drags us from God’s Holy Presence.
I can hear the objections that you are starting to raise.
“But, Jerry, you don’t know that idiot I married; the pain he brought into my life.” I don’t but I’m sorry, truly.
Or worse, “Jerry, you don’t know how it feels to be the victim of a sexual predator.” I don’t and my heart breaks for that person who carries such a wound.
“Jerry, you never met my boss. She never lets up on the criticism, making my life miserable.” I feel for you, too, really!
Carrying on life while hating that person who hurt you, refusing to let the debt go, makes the pain constant. Jesus says that we, God’s children, can make a different choice – to forgive. When we come to worship and memory of that old enemy comes to mind, He says, “Deal with it. Don’t put it off.” We have the ability to choose in the matter of forgiveness.
Our decision to forgive others not only gets us out of emotional debt, it also pleases God. Jesus taught us that “In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God’s part.” (Matthew 6:14-15, The Message)
Let me be clear. Forgiveness is not minimizing our pain, pretending that what happened to us does not matter, or trying to just ‘forget it.’ When Christians forgive, they release the debt of another to God, trusting His justice.
What does that kind of forgiveness look like?
It is modeled on God’s forgiveness!
God actively pursued sinful humanity. He entered the world, Jesus, God in flesh, to save the world from sin. Love was His sole motive. We forgive for love’s sake, actively letting offense go, and, where possible, pursuing reconciliation.
Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation.
To live in peace with God we receive forgiveness and grace that leads to genuine repentance. That allows us to be reconciled to our Father in Heaven, loving Him, knowing Him, living close to Him. Sometimes those we forgive do not change their ways, refuse to respond to our offer of grace. In that situation we need not feel guilty. Forgiveness is an individual’s choice. Reconciliation requires active participation of both the offended and the offender.
Forgiveness cannot be conditional.
Christians sometimes attempt a kind of half-forgiveness. “I’ll just ignore the offender. I won’t try to punish them but I’ll put them on probation.” God does not put us on spiritual probation just watching for us to slip up again. The Scripture says that “He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” True forgiveness does not hold onto the debt or sabotage relationships.
Forgiveness is a process, not an event.
Forgiveness is an individual choice to give our hurt, our sense of debt, to God and trust Him for perfect justice! In that choice, we release the other person discover freedom from our anger. It is possible that we will feel the old hurt again, that the resentment will creep back into our mind. If it does, we forgive again… and again … in Jesus’ words “70×7!”
Are you buried in emotional debt? Do you find your joy sabotaged by resentment towards another, your ability to form loving relationships with people hindered by memories of past hurts? Are you feuding with someone, offended by another’s actions, dealing with anxiety over an unresolved dispute?
Jesus says that the Spirit in us makes a new way possible – the way of forgiveness. It’s not easy, nor is it a ‘once and done’ moment. In the struggle to forgive you may find yourself praying in tears, asking the Holy Spirit to soften your heart. Tell Him how you feel, what you feel, why you think you’re feeling that way. Choose the path of discipleship, the Jesus Way, and “bless those who curse you!” When you give the debt you carry to Him, a new sweetness of spirit will grow in you. You will be free to be loving like our Father in Heaven.
Here’s a word from the Word to ponder today. It’s a story Jesus told about being forgiven and becoming one who forgives. “Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” “No!” Jesus replied, “seventy times seven!” “For this reason, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him. In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars. He couldn’t pay, so the king ordered that he, his wife, his children, and everything he had be sold to pay the debt. But the man fell down before the king and begged him, ‘Oh, sir, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’ Then the king was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt.
“But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment. His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. ‘Be patient and I will pay it,’ he pleaded. But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and jailed until the debt could be paid in full. “When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him what had happened. Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ Then the angry king sent the man to prison until he had paid every penny. “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters in your heart.”
(Matthew 18:21-35, NLT)
(This hymn is one of profound faith that makes forgiveness possible.)
O love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in Thee.
I give Thee back the life I owe,
That in Thine ocean depths its flow,
May richer fuller be.
O Light that followest all my way
I yield my flickering torch to Thee
My heart restores its borrowed ray
That in Thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter fairer be
O joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to Thee.
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.
O cross that lifted up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from Thee.
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red,
Life that shall endless be.
Matheson, George / Peace, Albert Lister © Public Domain