Are you not talking with your parents? Are there people you don’t even like to listen to or read from because they spoke or wrote something you did not like? Do you still hold it against your ex? Are you suing someone for canards they made against you?. Is your cousin or friend who slept with your husband still in your black book? They may be crying “please forgive me”.
To define the verb forgive, we will consider first the types. There are two types of forgiveness: vertical and horizontal. Vertical forgiveness is when God forgives a person and horizontal forgiveness is when an individual forgives another. There must be two people involved for forgiveness to take place. A guilty party and the non-guilty party. God is infallible, that is why only him can forgive humans and human cannot forgive him (Mt 9:6). Contrarily, humans are fallible; one or both could be wrong and they ask for forgiveness. The dichotomy is more explicit in the Old Testament than the New Testament because in the latter, both terms are interchangeably used.
Therefore, vertical forgiveness means God makes atonement, cleans or disannuls our sins (I kings 8:34; Amos 7:2; Dan 9:19; Jer 18:23). While on the other hand, horizontal forgiveness will mean lay aside (Mt 6:15; Lk 6:37), spare (Gen 50:17; Ex 10:17 Ps. 25:18; Is. 2:9) or grant favors (2 Cor 2:7, 10; 12:13).
The above classification and definitions, question immediately the theory of “forgive and forget”. That theory is giving man a capability he does not possess. The human being can only lay aside the faults of other people and then moves forward. He/she cannot clean or wipe it out entirely. God can do that by rolling them down into the bottom of the sea (Micah 7:19; Jer 50:20). Thus, if someone slapped you while you were arguing, though you may forgive them but if you were involved in another argument and they start raising their voice, the previous incident resurfaces. That does not mean you did not forgive them but just that it stays in the spirit of the human being. That is what makes them to learn from their mistakes or past. If that capability was taken away, we will not be able to remember the past or learn from our past experiences.
Many have inquired whether we can forgive people without them asking for forgiveness because of Luke 17:3. This verse is talking about rebuke if you are ready to forgive (Lev 19”17; Mt 18:15, 21-22; James 5:19-20). If you reprimand someone for their fault and they acknowledge it, then you must let it go. We must realize to forgive is a command of God (Mt 6:14). By forgiving others, we are obeying God. Forgiveness paves the way for our own forgiveness (Lk 6:37). If we don’t forgive then we develop hatred in our hearts and inner hatred is synonymous to murder (Mt 5:21-22; I Jn 2:11). If I do a bit of applied theology then we can articulate that not forgiving other people is suicide because we are killing our bodies and whosoever destroys his or her body is destroying the temple of God (I Cor 3: 16-17; 6: 19). Physiologically bitterness kills because during this time there is always an alarm reaction when we see those we refuse to forgive. The heart beats faster, our blood pressure rises, breathing and our adrenaline increase, sending rapid alarmed messages to the body. This produces stress that enlarges our adrenal glands because it needs much adrenaline to cope with its fighting spirit and a large thyroid gland for strenuous activity. Much adrenaline means high blood pressure, which hardens the arteries and later cause strokes, heart attacks or death. So you so why I said it is like suicide. It’s not different from dinning raticide or herbicide.
The main and frequent question is how many times one should forgive his/her brother. Jesus told them not to complain about only seven times but that they should forgive them seventy times seven times a day (Mt 18:22). That means, we have to forgive people who wrong us four hundred and ninety times a day. A bit of biblical calculus will conclude that no one can wrong us 490 times a day. Hence, we have no mandate to be spiteful or rancorous. We must set aside the wrongs of others by applying unmerited favors (grace) to those who have wronged us. The number seven would have meant perfect forgiveness but seven times seven times will mean invalidating conditions like “if he as asks for forgiveness I will forgive him”. Remember, the type of forgiveness the human being awards to fellow human beings is not the same forgiveness God awards to man. God’s, requires man requesting because it has to do with cleansing through imputation of the righteousness of his son Jesus Christ while ours is laying aside. Letting it go. Jesus frowns at resentment very seriously by narrating the parable of the unforgiving servant (Mt 18:23-35).
If we always have to forgive where and when then does the law come in? You raped a man, he calls the police and you are arrested. That is because the law is there to curtail the excesses of the society. Everybody sins, but when your sins start to affect your neighbor, then it should be treated as a crime and the law of the land is there just for crimes. Jesus did not come to abolish the law; he came to perfect it (Mt 5:17-19; 1 Pet 4:14-15). He came for both inward and outward sin to be judged.
However, forgiveness comes in when you can let it go from your heart and allow the person leave jail when the law wants to free them than require that they rot in jail. Perhaps someone killed your father, was sentenced to five years imprisonment and they have finished serving their time. But you say the law was not that retributive enough. That means; you have not forgiven them. To forgive them means, you allow the law to take its cause of action and whatever they decide should be fine with you. If possible, request for a milder punishment for them. That is where forgiveness interjects. If someone kills your son, you can still forgive them in court but they may bear the brunt of their wrong by going to jail. We are not saying that crimes should not be prosecuted in the name of love. If sin was judged and disciplined then some of the libertinism we witness in our churches will be no more.
Notwithstanding, it is not a must that we must involve the law in every wrong people do to us. There are many wrongs; those wrongs that will not affect a third party (state) that we must let go. If you accuse me falsely, the law requires me to sue you for defamation but because God calls us to forgive one another, I should forgive you. When is the appropriate time to forgive?
The appropriate time to forgive is when you remember it (Mt 5:24). If you are holding anyone in your heart, you are not qualified to preach the gospel. Anything we do during this time we have not forgiven those who wronged us is called filthy rags offering (Is 64:6). This is goodness mélanged with sin.
My friends, God calls us to ask him for forgiveness and to forgive one another. My appeal to you today is to go ahead and release those you hold in your heart for something they did wrong to you today, yesterday or yesteryears. Remember you are doing it as obedience to God and for your own good. If you can reach them, call them and tell them you have forgiven them. Let us follow peace with all men and holiness without which nobody will see God (Heb 12:14).
Until then, forgive learn to forgive 490 times a day.
Prince & PA Hamilton Ayuk