letting go of your debt, holding onto theirs
We all have a debt we need to pay. I have a debt I’ll start paying off soon for university, but that’s not the kind of debt I’m talking about. I’m talking about those mean words you’ve said that you can’t take back. Or when you saw someone get bullied at school and even though you didn’t say anything mean to them, you didn’t say anything at all. Or what about the little thing you stole once as a child, or a teenager, or recently? Or maybe you put a little dent in someone’s car accidentally but walked away cause, well, it not that big of a deal… right? Maybe there’s a girl from your school who made your life hell and ever since then, you wouldn’t go out of your way to hurt her, but when you see her you kind of want to roll your eyes. Or that boy who broke your heart and you want him to have a good life, but you also feel a bit frustrated if his life is better than yours.
Good people or not, we’ve all made a mistake. Even if the not-so-good things you’ve done didn’t hurt anyone, they hurt God. Which means we all have a debt to pay Him. Mine would easily be in the millions if we measured it in finances. You might only be minus $15,000 or maybe that little white lie on your tax return only adds up to $500 in debt. It doesn’t actually matter what the price is, it’s still a debt. The annoying thing is, all those kind and wonderful things you’ve done aren’t enough to pay back what you owe. Unfortunately when you put dye into water, you can’t take it out and make it clean again. According to the Creator of the Universe, two wrongs don’t make a right. Or, two good things cannot fix a wrong.
So along comes the Ruler of all your taxes, the one who manages every person’s debt in this whole world. You have all your honest receipts—all the good things you’ve done— and you hand him the folder. He takes one look at it and says, “That’s great, where is the rest though?” The folder held half of the stuff you did that year, but in order to settle your accounts, he needs to see all of it. After all, the good things you’ve done aren’t enough to pay off your debt. You cringe a little because you know what you have to pull out. You look at the big yellow envelope; inside is every big or small mistake you’ve made. Mistakes that have gone against God, hurt you or hurt somebody else. You take a deep breath and hand him the envelope. Or in my case, the large package. As he opens it and reads through the pages you can feel your heart pounding. You wish you could just go back in time and bite your tongue before you said something cruel but you can’t—it’s been said. You’ve already walked past that person who needed your help and you’ve already cheated on that test. You can’t erase it once it’s been done.
He looks you in the eye and you can feel your face going white. If you can’t pay this debt back, how on earth will you do it? Will you lose your house now? Your car? Your possessions? Or worse—the people you love—your life?
“Your debt is too big,” he said, “You can’t pay it back.”
“Please,” you beg, “I’ll try harder next time. I’ll earn enough to pay it back, just give me time.” You couldn’t bear to look at him.
His voice was soft when he said, “Actually, it’s okay. You don’t need to pay any of it back. It’s on me.”
You froze and tried to stop your jaw from dropping open, “Seriously?” You looked at the total amount you owed, “you’re gonna pay that for me? But that’s so much—“
He smile and held up his hand, “—I know. But it’s okay. I’ll pay it for you because you asked.”
How could you not accept that offer? You shook his hand, thanked him, and sung all the way home. When you walked inside, you saw your brother standing there. All joy disappeared when you realized what he was holding. That was your laptop, and it was—
“Did you break my laptop?” you threw your tax folder on the ground and stormed over to him. “What are you even doing using it? I never let you?”
Your brother stood there, fear stricken, “um—I needed to use it—“
“Did I say you could?” You yelled. “And you broke it?”
“I tripped and it hit the—“
“Do you realize how expensive that was?!” you kept yelling, “I need that! That’s gonna cost you so much! I bet you don’t even have the money to pay me back!”
“I’ll pay you back just give me time—“
“Are you serious? No way! You did this—not me! I need the money now!”
When the Manager of your taxes found out about this, he knocked on your door and said, “I paid your debt because you could not pay it and you begged me for mercy. But you go home, yell at your brother and demand him to pay his debt? You have no mercy on him, no patience. Because of this you must pay back what you owe.”
You knew what you had done. You refused to give love to your brother the way you had just been loved, and now you had to slave in agony for the rest of your life to pay back the debt you owed. * * *
Although the scenarios may be different, I can guarantee we’ve all done something like that. We’ve sat in church and asked God for forgiveness, but when someone cuts us off on the highway we get frustrated. We’ve asked God to forgive the filthy things we’ve done, but refused to love someone who betrayed us. When Jesus told this parable (Matthew 18:21-35) he finished it with, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
Forgiveness. Some of you may hear that word and cringe like I have. Or some of you may feel like it’s not an issue for you; in fact you may forgive “too much,” (something I also could relate to).
Now, let’s be real for a second. This 2018 version of this parable that I wrote is kind of light-hearted. In reality, it may not be a broken laptop that you need to have mercy on. Maybe it’s complete destruction by another human being. Maybe it’s forgiving more people than you can count on your fingers and toes. Relatives, friends, ex-friends, acquaintances, work collegues, strangers. Some of you would understand when I say the list could go on forever!
To be honest, I usually forgive someone when they apologize. It’s when people don’t even realize they’ve hurt me (or don’t care) when it feels impossible to love them. It’s when the situation is unresolved and they haven’t or don’t want to to do anything to fix it. That’s when I struggle to forgive. Forgiveness is something I’ve conquered and it’s something that has conquered me. Some days I forgive and some days I don't. I go on a roller-coaster of forgiveness and bitterness. I don't like it.
This year I’ve gained a lot, but I’ve lost heaps as well. I’ve found out things that I wish I never knew. I’ve been triggered by things that happened in the past. Relationships I hoped would get better still haven’t changed. People I loved the most have walked away and taken things with them. People I used to talk to all the time don’t want to know me anymore. Basically, I’ve had to rely only on God. And although that’s forced me to get closer to Him, it’s also made me realize how much I lack forgiveness when I thought I’d conquered that mountain years ago. And in some situations, I’ve forgiven the big things but for some reason hold onto little things.
I didn’t actually want to write about forgiveness this week. I thought, how can I write about something I don’t feel like I’ve sorted out myself? But it’s something I’ve been faced with every day, so since forgiveness is still a thing I have to work on (and it probably always will be!), I decided to see what God says about it and that’s when I came across that story.
The story I told is actually based on the parable called, “The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant.” A friend of Jesus actually asked him how many times he should forgive someone who has done him wrong. “Should I forgive them seven times?” He asked. Jesus replied and said he should forgive them, not seven times, but 77 times. And then He went on to tell a story (And that’s what I wrote as a 2018 version). Basically Jesus is describing what he did for us. If we ask, he will forgive us and take away our debt, big or small (even though we owe him!) But when someone does us wrong, we won’t forgive them? Jesus finishes the story literally saying that if we do not forgive others, he cannot forgive us. That’s kind of a full on thing to say.
“And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” Mark 11:25.
“Forgive and you will be forgiven… for with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Luke 6:37-38.
Some of you may already know that to be with Jesus and secure our place in heaven, we need to believe that Jesus died on the cross to take away our sins (all the debt that we owe) and that he rose again to give us life. But He won’t force anything; He will only pay our debt if we want that and if we ask. So once we ask, we must continue to turn from our sins and follow him. And this requires sacrifice, it means giving up the things we want, losing things we had, and forgiving people who have done us wrong. It’s hard work, actually. But as a result, we get to live the best life in the whole world—in heaven. We also have hope while we’re on earth. And if you continue to seek him with all your heart, even when you’re hurting you will know a joy and contentment that is almost hard to explain it's so good!
Our debts, our sin, lead to death if it’s not taken away. (Romans 6:16) Just like the story, a good thing you’ve done will not erase a mistake unless Jesus erases it and pays for it Himself. Jesus classifies unforgiveness as a sin. And if we harbor unforgiveness in our heart, God cannot forgive us. If God cannot forgive us, our debt cannot be paid. If our debt is not paid, we are not worthy to enter heaven. So in other words, bitterness could potentially jeopardize our place in eternity. If we don’t forgive others we are risking our place in heaven.
I know this is a full on thing to think about, I struggle with this too. But if something has the potential to influence our eternity, it automatically is one of the most important things to think about in our life now.
"If something has the potential to influence our eternity, it automatically is one of the most important things."
I just had to stop writing here. I didn’t think I could say all of this if part of me still wants to hold onto bitterness. So I stopped, grabbed a journal and I wrote, “God, I forgive…” and I listed name after name after name. Some people I didn’t think I had anything against I wrote down because their name popped up in my head for some reason. Other people I wrote twice. It’s crazy because as I wrote some names I could feel my heart breaking. I wrote “myself” as well. I wrote 2 full pages… and honestly you don’t realize how much you’re holding against people until you ask God to show you.
Over the years I’ve asked questions like, “but does that mean I have to talk to them? Does that mean they don’t get punished for what they did? What if I have forgiven them… but a few years later I feel frustrated about it again? What if they never apologize? Ever? Why do they get to live a good life and I'm suffering?"
Actually, I used to hear Christian's always saying how freeing it was to forgive. I could never understand because every single time I took the steps to forgive someone, I felt worse. I didn’t feel better at all. Similar to just now, some names I wrote down made it feel like someone was ripping off my skin. But maybe that’s what happens when you dive into a wound you don’t want to touch. But a wound will get infected if it's not cleaned. It’ll start to spread to other parts of your body, just like unforgiveness may express itself in other areas of your life.
I’m going to talk about all of those other things as well because they’re important questions. And forgiveness can be an extremely difficult thing to do (and Jesus knows that! Keep in mind that He never tells us to do anything unless it benefits us). But I think the first step towards me forgiving someone has always been: first understanding the importance of forgiveness. And to sum it up: To be able to go to heaven and be with Jesus we must be forgiven. But to be forgiven, we must forgive. So be blessed, and seek Jesus! - Elizabeth