It was only a documentary. I wasn’t prepared for the gut-wrenching trauma. I hadn’t even brought any tissue, for Heaven’s sake. But sitting in the theater with a friend, watching the film “Nefarious”, had reduced me to a state of crying and shaking.
We wanted to be better informed about the scourge of human trafficking in our city and understand how we could join the battle against it. We knew it wouldn’t be easy to watch, and we were not there to be entertained, but I never expected the hatred that washed over me in tsunami-force waves as I watched the men on the screen portraying the captors, torturers, abusers, and sellers of the women they enslaved.
All the Scriptures I had ever learned about forgiveness seemed a cruel joke in the face of such twisted and violent evil. Worse than whistling in the dark, the thought of forgiveness seemed to make a hollow mockery of the shattering pain and trauma these women and girls (and sometimes boys) experience.
By the time the documentary was halfway over, I was wishing to be anywhere BUT there and had started to think up fitting punishments for those responsible for such suffering. My sense of justice longed to see them cowering in fear and experiencing a hefty dose of what they so remorselessly dished out.
Thankfully, the tone of the documentary shifted from portraying the utter despair of the victims whose stories were being shared, to one of incredible hope as one by one, these women told how Jesus had met them in the pit they were trapped in, loved them, healed them, and restored their lives.
Then I got the biggest surprise of my life.
They interviewed one of the former captors.
He wept openly as he talked about the pain and brokenness of his life that drove him to be who he was, and then he talked of Jesus, who radically forgave and saved him and gave his life wholeness and meaning.
This wretched, unspeakably evil excuse for a human (in my generous opinion) was also a victim of evil and depravity, and Jesus loved him. Now he is part of the solution, humbly and gratefully.
That was when I realized how extravagant the forgiveness of God truly is.
I only THOUGHT I was crying before.
Getting a revelation of the love of God – it’s breadth and depth and height – expressed through His willingness to forgive, left me completely undone.
The Forgiveness Factor
Isn’t it revealing of the smallness we are prone to, that God is so willing to forgive, and we are so reluctant? The former captor’s sins didn’t send ME to the cross, yet I would have demanded justice. But when it is I who have failed, I cry for mercy. Perhaps expect it.
That brings us to what I call The Forgiveness Factor, and the two top reasons we don’t want to forgive.
The first reason we don’t want to forgive other is that we don’t realize how much we personally have already been forgiven.
Sin separates us from a holy God, and our sins – my sins – separated me from God just as much as the sins of the former human trafficker in the film Nefarious.
No, I probably haven’t hurt anyone as much as he had, and hopefully, I have never made anyone’s life a living hell, but the standard isn’t comparative. It’s not a question of “better than” and “worse than”. It’s a yes or no question.
Q: Have I ever sinned?
Result: Separation from holiness.
It took the cross to save me just as much as it took the cross to save Mr. Nefarious.
When I see my need as cavernous, and the gift I received as extravagant, I am more willing to offer forgiveness to others.
The second reason we so dislike letting go of the crimes committed against us is that we confuse our identity with the Supreme Court Chief Justice. If that were the case and we forgive, the crime goes unpunished. Unthinkable! Irresponsible! Unjust!
There’s just one problem with that. God has not abdicated His throne. There will come a day when all people will stand before Him, and answer for their actions. My impatience doesn’t increase my importance in this scenario. No one made me the Ancient of Days this morning.
So we stew and fret and refuse to forgive because attempting to extract our pound of flesh seems to at least ensure that there is some measure of justice.
You might have heard the profound statement that living with unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die.
Today is a good day to stop drinking poison.
The Forgiveness Factor is revealed by Jesus in a parable that probably isn’t one of His more popular blog posts.
Matthew 18 is the home of this compelling narrative of the unmerciful servant. You know the one – the story of the king who wanted to settle his accounts and collect all the money owed him. He demanded repayment from a man who owed him ten thousand talents, and when the man was unable to pay, ordered that he, his wife, children, and possessions be sold to repay the debt. The man fell to his knees and begged for more time, promising to pay back all he owed. The king had pity and canceled his debt, freeing him to go.
The servant whose debt had just been canceled left this life-changing encounter, saw a fellow servant who owed him a hundred denarii, and started to choke him, demanding repayment. Just like he had, the man fell to his knees and begged for more time. Incredibly, the unmerciful servant refused and had him thrown into prison until the debt could be repaid.
The amazing thing about this parable is the amounts mentioned. According to several commentaries, the wicked servant who initially had his debt canceled owed the equivalent to 160,000 YEARS of wages, with nothing taken out for living expenses.
That is the picture of the staggering burden of the debt of our sin in the eyes of God. Absolutely no hope of repayment.
The second servant owed the first one the equivalent of about 3 month’s wages. Significant, and may require some scrimping and saving, but repayment would definitely be possible.
That is the picture Jesus gives of the offenses toward us that require forgiveness.
The take-away: Jesus has canceled my impossible, staggering debt, and I should joyfully go out and forgive others the small (in comparison) debts they owe me.
Verse 35 says unless we do, we are volunteering for God to treat us like the king in the parable treated the wicked servant.
We must forgive. That’s the Forgiveness Factor. We have to give it to receive it. We give it away to keep what we need. And it’s okay to forgive simply because we know we need to be forgiven ourselves.
Is the Forgiveness Factor working for you today, or against you?
Is there someone you need to release to the Ancient of Days so that your life can be cleansed from the toxins of unforgiveness, and so that you can live forgiven?
I know it can be excruciating. Surgery with no anesthesia.
BUT…as I saw in Nefarious, forgiveness is transformational. When we choose to stop drinking poison, the rank, stagnant pool of a poisoned soul is washed clean by the rushing flow of pure Living Water. We are released from the debtor’s prison and the torturer to live freely and fully the life that God designed us for.
Extending forgiveness to someone else may be the best thing we ever do for ourselves.
Are you struggling with unforgiveness today?
If so, this prayer is for you.
“Gracious, forgiving Father, thank you that You are aware of every injustice we have ever suffered and that You, not we, are responsible for seeing justice done. In you, justice and mercy are perfectly balanced, and we ourselves are so often in need of Your mercy. Please give us the grace to extend forgiveness to those we have tried to poison. Heal us from the toxins of unforgiveness, and set us free to experience Your forgiveness in our own lives. Jesus, You said that if we love You, we will obey You, and You say we must forgive. Empower us to truly love You and to choose Your excellent ways over our own selfish and vindictive tendencies. We want to live and love like You.”
With faith, hope, and love,