Fort McCoy News November 14, 2014

Faith: Why is it so hard to forgive?

Garrison Chaplain, Fort McCoy

As we ready ourselves to celebrate Thanksgiving, we must take time to count our blessings, which include the many times we have been forgiven by those whom we have hurt in the past.

Photo for forgiveness article

It is a blessing to be forgiven and to forgive. But most of us find it extremely hard to forgive our past and to forgive others. We must re-evaluate why it is so hard for us to forgive.

Recently, I was sharing with a few friends how someone was so angry with me for preaching about forgiveness down range. One of the people present reiterated that the act of forgiving someone does not obliterate the consequences of the person's action. I agree with that assertion completely, but the act of forgiveness itself is a divine mandate.

I heard the story of a man named George Wilson who, in 1830, killed a government employee who had caught him in the act of robbing the mail. He was tried and condemned to death by hanging. But then-President of the United States Andrew Jackson granted him executive pardon. George Wilson, however, refused to accept the pardon.

The Department of Corrections did not know what to do. The case was taken to the Supreme Court where Chief Justice John Marshall ruled that "a pardon is a slip of paper, the value of which is determined by the acceptance of the person to be pardoned. If it is refused, it is no pardon. George Wilson must be hanged." And he was.

I know many of us are opposed to the death penalty, but we still have to agree with the principle that pardon granted has to be accepted to become effective. This is the point I am trying to make. When we realize how much God has forgiven us, we must not only accept God's forgiveness, but we must, in turn, forgive those who have, in one way or another, hurt us. The Bible shows us that the way to accept God's forgiveness is not just to say, "Amen, so be it!", but to go out and forgive someone else. We all have someone who has offended us in some shape or fashion.

In the Bible we are told the story of the Unforgiving Servant, which raises the frightening prospect that even when we have been forgiven, God could still revoke it.

In that story the king who forgave his servant's debt did so from his heart. But when the servant then failed to forgive his fellow servant, the king revoked the pardon. We can deduce by his action that the servant did not appreciate or show gratitude and therefore was unworthy of the pardon he had been given. This is a good analogy of how God deals with us; it actually is the point of the story in the Bible.

"So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart." (Matthew 18:35) In other words, when God gives us His word of forgiveness, everything is not yet a rumba dance. The dance begins only when we are able to go out and forgive those who have hurt or offended us in any way.

The free grace of God's forgiveness needs our response of forgiving our neighbor to be finally ratified. There are no two ways about this. Is this not a frightening thought?

The question I ask myself all the time is, "Why do we find it so hard to forgive others, even though that is the only way to anchor God's forgiveness?"

I think the reason is because we fail to appreciate and celebrate our own forgiveness. I think, like the ungrateful servant in the parable, we focus on the 100 denarii our neighbor owes us rather than the 10,000 talents we owe to God, which God has graciously cancelled.

Let us think about this in proportion. A denarius is a laborer's daily wage. So his fellow servant owed him 100 days' pay, which could be paid back in a couple of months. But this same servant owed his master 10,000 talents. A talent was equal to 6,000 denarii. So he owed his master the equivalent of 60,000,000 denarii. For a laborer working five days a week, 48 weeks a year, it would take 250,000 years to raise that kind of money.

This astronomical figure shows that the servant owed his master so much that there was absolutely no way he could ever hope to repay that. This is symbolic of the debt each of us owes God through sin — a debt we could never, ever hope to repay even if we spent our whole life in sackcloth and ashes. Not even the combined penitence of all humankind suffices to blot out a single sin.

But God, in his infinite mercy, sent his own Son to die on the cross and take away our sins. And all He asks of us is to be grateful — to realize that He has done for us so much more than we could ever be required to do for our neighbor.

If we find ourselves in the circle of those who find it so hard to forgive other people, chances are we have not come to appreciate and celebrate sufficiently the immeasurable forgiveness that we ourselves have received from God.

I invite you to aim for a deeper appreciation and gratitude for the amazing love that God has shown you in Christ Jesus. I bet you that this awareness will make it easier for you to let others off the hook for their relatively minor offenses against you.

My personal experience shows me that the burden lifted off your chest when you forgive someone that has offended you deeply is immeasurable and creates a new beginning.

(The Fort McCoy Religious Support Office (RSO) serves Soldiers, their Families, tenant units, and Department of Defense civilians who are stationed or serving at the installation. The RSO assists in ensuring the right of free exercise of religion for all military personnel. Contact the RSO at 608-388-3528.)