Forgive me now, 'cause I,
Have been unfaithful;
Don't ask me why, 'cause I don't know;
So many times I've tried,
But was unable ...
Now I'm in our secret place,
Alone in Your embrace,
Where all my wrongs have been erased;
You have forgiven,
All the promises and lies,
All the times I compromised,
All the times You were denied...
(From "Forgiveness" by Skillet)
Even though our conversation ended on a note of unforgiveness, I am not sure that it had to end that way. His story was like so many other stories, even our own stories in response to the insults, injuries, and loss we experience where the journey to forgiveness takes time. Hardly a day passes when we are not faced with the question of forgiveness. Do we forgive or not forgive someone who has hurt us. Is forgiveness even worth it?
Is it worth forgiving someone? That is an interesting question, and I left the conversation with the young man's words still echoing in my heart: "It isn't worth forgiving her!" Have you ever tried to measure or value forgiveness? What makes forgiveness worth it? Is it based on the response of the person who hurt or offended you? And if their remorse and tears and admission of guilt are sufficient, do we feel that our forgiveness is deserved and justifiable? Or is forgiveness based on how much you and I value the person who hurt us? If so, then what is the basis of that value? Is it determined by their relationship with us, their social standing in the community, their beauty or intelligence, or even by their power and influence on others?
When is forgiveness not worth it? When the offender doesn't accept responsibility or doesn't show remorse or respond the way we think she should? Or is forgiveness not worth it if the offender is a "dirty rotten scoundrel?" -- and when it's certainly not close to being his first offense.
What is the worth in forgiving anyone who has wronged me? What is the worth by which someone sees fit to forgive any of us for things we may have done or said that hurt them? If forgiveness is based only on the worth of our explanations or excuses, or the worth of our repentance and response -- what about when our repentance doesn't actually last and someone recognizes that this is not our first time or our second and decides that we are not worth forgiving.
What worth did Pope John Paul II see in Mehmet Ali Agca to forgive him for his brazen assassination attempt? What worth did Corrie ten Boom see in the Nazi prison guards to forgive them for her cruel captivity and treatment in the concentration camp? What worth did Jesus see in the soldiers to forgive them for humiliating, mistreating and crucifying him? What worth did Wilma Derksen see in the killer to forgive him for murdering her precious teenage daughter? What worth does God see in you and me to forgive us for the wrong we do time and time again?
Forgiveness is not a reasonable calculation or equation based on any personal merit or measure of response. Forgiveness is always an act of undeserved grace based only on who we are as human beings, individuals valued by God who made us in his image. For us to see any worth in forgiving our offenders is to fix our eyes not on what the offender has done but on who the offender is as a human being bearing the image of God and infinitely loved by God.
The basis of such forgiveness is counter cultural, but is the foundation of what Jesus taught about forgiveness. Even Peter, the disciple, who had some inkling that there was a generosity in forgiveness, completely missed it when he ventured that it might be worth forgiving a repeat offender even up to seven times -- perfectly according to Hebrew tradition which saw seven as the measure of perfection. But Jesus' response went way beyond Peter's generosity and sense of perfection, implying that perfect forgiveness knows no limits and even seventy times seven would not begin to push the limits of forgiveness.
Forgiveness may not be worth it, if our only measure of worth is based on the response or social merit of the offender. But if forgiveness is worth anything at all that worth resides in the unalterable fact that every human being, the offender and the offended, are equally loved by God whose image they bear in being human. And if God so generously forgives his errant creatures who are we to act as if those who offend us are not worthy of our forgiveness even though God will forgive them. Is our forgiveness above that of God's forgiveness? The refusal to forgive is a refusal to recognize the worth of the other person, and the refusal to recognize the worth of the other person is to debase both that person and ourselves.
Jesus said -
You should pray like this:
Our Father in heaven,
Help us to honor your name.
Come and set up your kingdom,
so that everyone on earth will obey you,
as you are obeyed in heaven.
Give us our food for today.
Forgive us for doing wrong,
as we forgive others.
Keep us from being tempted
and protect us from evil
If you forgive others for the wrongs they do to you,
your Father in heaven will forgive you.
But if you don't forgive others,
your Father will not forgive your sins.
(Matthew 6:9-14 CEVUS)