The correct view of forgiveness.
We can say that human nature, human nature, is already such that we are more likely to overlook other people’s faults than our faults glaringly. We hear or read of severe transgressions against God’s laws; we read of theft, murder, wars, or marital infidelity. In addition to these severe faults that we see in other people, our responsibilities seem small and insignificant, and our guilt against God appears unimportant.
Such a view of men seems to give us the right to be angry with those far below us in our own eyes, to condemn their actions, to despise them.
Jesus Christ, however, put an end to such a worldview. With the parable of the two servants, He said that we are all debtors to God, unable to pay our debt. But God, at our simple request, forgives us all. But He asks that we also do so and forgive our neighbor even 77 times.
To better understand Jesus’ parable, we are asked to quote an incident from the Bible. It preserves a song sung by the wicked and proud Lamech, a descendant of Cain. He sang it to his two wives:
Adah and Leta,
listen to my speech,
hear my voice, wives of Lamech.
I will slay the man who wounds, the young man who strikes me and me.
Seven times shall Cain be avenged.
Lamech, however, 77 times.
The number seven in the Bible means completeness. To forgive seven times means a constant willingness to forgive. In the Old Testament, God reserved sevenfold vengeance for the one who killed Cain. Lamech reserved 77-fold vengeance. We see how, in the first sin, evil and iniquity multiplied wonderfully. It grew exponentially. Against this avalanche, only an equally great dam of good could be built. To forgive 77 times means an unlimited willingness to forgive. Only in this way can the avalanche of evil be stopped.
However, the nature within us sometimes resists when we have something to forgive our neighbor: To whom I shall forgive? For that would not even be fair! I cannot forget what he has done, and I will reckon it to him one day! This is also how Christians speak! They do not even realize what terrible blasphemy they are committing.
The first servant’s debt to the master is so great that no servant can pay it. 10,000 talents. That is about 24 million (marks) by today’s standards. But Jesus demandingly used such a staggering sum.
And every man is such a debtor to God. How is this possible? Perhaps you will think: I don’t recall any severe wrongdoing against God. And yet – even the most minor sin is so great an offense against God that man cannot repay it.
The greatness of the offense is calculated not only by what we do but also by whom we offend. Whether we offend a friend, our parents or a head of state makes a difference. The magnitude of the insult rises according to the rank of the person.
God is infinite; therefore, any insult to God, even relatively small, is endless.
Similarly, whether an unknown salesgirl or our mother says a bad word to us makes a difference. Thus the offense is also dependent on the relationship with each other. It depends on the love the person has for us. God loves us infinitely. It is so terrible to offend God because He loves us immeasurably. And God will forgive us of any such offense at a simple request. This greatness of God’s love should cause a person to be willing to forgive others as well continually. But if a man refuses to act according to the pattern God has given, God will use His measure for him. God’s measurements mean infinite mercy. If a man does not forgive, then even God cannot forgive him. In Jesus’ words about punishment, we can feel the foreshadowing of eternal damnation.
And now, let us pause for a moment and transport ourselves to everyday life. Do we have true Christian love? Or do we still think like pagans who know nothing of the greatness of God’s love?
Gilbert Chesterton beautifully explains the difference between pagan and Christian love in his seminal work, O r t o d o x I a.
A reasonable pagan would say that there are people who can be forgiven and people who cannot be ignored. An enslaved person who stole some wine could be laughed at, but an enslaved person who betrayed his benefactor could also be killed and cursed even after death. As long as it was possible to forgive the act, it was also possible to ignore the man. And it was pretty reasonable.
Christianity here struck sharply, as if by the stroke of a sword, and separated one thing from another. It divided the transgression into the transgressor. We are to forgive the transgressor 77 times. We must not forgive the trespasser at all. We must be angrier than before at theft, yet we must be kinder to the thief. Anger and love have been entirely loosened. In other words: We must hate the sin but love the sinner.
This is how the Lord God treats us. There is no sinner that God is not willing to forgive. To believe in this greatness of God’s love is the first requirement of conversion and holiness. Let us beware, therefore, that our repentance, our confession, is not merely a desire to “be right.” Going to confession means going closer to God and loving Him and being told again that God loves us, and we begin to believe it.
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