Updated: Jul 4
As is often quoted, the world’s whimsical definition of “insanity” is to do the same thing over and over and somehow expect a different outcome. It usually gets a laugh or mournful shaking of the head. And that principle seems to make even more sense in these cancel-culture times. For instance, you don’t waste time repeatedly forgiving someone – you forget about them, your relationship, your history – and you move on. On the surface, it’s a clean economy of emotional expense. Underneath, it’s a cut-and-run strategy that allows you to avoid awkward conversations, owning any of the responsibility, and feeling vulnerable. Win. Win. Win!
But what about the Kingdom perspective? [You’re all saying, “70 X 7!”] When Peter generously proposes that we should forgive a person seven times (Matthew 18:22), Jesus comes back with 70 times seven – a number that seems a bit extreme, even to the gentle natured souls among us. It’s curious that Jesus didn’t come back with 100 times seven or 1000 times seven – especially if He was trying to give a number that signified that forgiveness should be unlimited. But I suspect He wanted to stick with the seven theme – the number of perfection. Because it was a perfect example of unconditional forgiveness. A perfect example of covering the sins of others. A perfect example of operating in a state of mature sanctification as demonstrated by the well-developed fruit of the Spirit.
How about – a perfect escape from the bondage of resentment, anger, fear, or hurt.
When I read this scripture and analyze it with my human mind, I immediately recognize the implication that I would have to be continually placing myself in the path of this noxious person – and I think, “Why would I do that? Why wouldn’t I distance myself physically and/or emotionally?” Then I think of all the people who are permanent fixtures in my life who routinely insult me, take me for granted, abuse my patience or generosity – or just plain forget about me when they don’t need anything from me. Then I think, “Oh man, if 70 times seven is the limit… some of these people are getting ready to time-out in the very near future!”
There are a couple of things working behind the curtain in this relational strategy proposed – and implemented – by Jesus. First, it forces you to make a decision each time there is a new infraction: Do I take offense, again, and toss it on the growing pile of resentment and aggravation. The heap that is weighing down my heart and causing me to see through a veil of negative expectations and coloring my world in tones of blue and gray? Or do I exercise grace one more time and focus on the blessing of the situation? Do I find my joy in the presence of the Lord and the Peace of Christ when I can’t readily find it in the problematic and stressful relationships in my life? Scripture warns us not to take offense because it's a tool of the enemy that causes doubt and division between people. Nothing good or constructive can exist in the presence of offense because it causes us to put up walls of protection and stirs feelings of rejection and insecurity. Jesus is asking us to love like He does – in a way that we are oblivious to any slight or blow that is directed toward us. In a way that we dodge anything that is thrown at us and look directly at the heart that is hurting and wounded and answer the needs with compassion and gentleness. He is asking us to remember who we are – children of God, created in His image. He is asking us to be a reflection of His love. That is extremely challenging!
The second thing that is working behind the curtain is a little less obvious in nature; and, perhaps, a little more philosophical to ponder – and it’s this: What are the spiritual mechanics in operation when we are committed to repeatedly forgiving the same person for the same trespasses over and over? Why is something that is considered “insanity” in the world a directive in the Kingdom?
I believe the answer is “prayer.”
We don’t continue to forgive so that we can look like righteous, sanctified Christians; we continue to forgive because we are praying for the person and the relationship, and we believe those prayers make a difference. We extend ourselves over and over because we wait to see how God is going to intervene in the situation and how He is going to bring glory to Himself in victory. We expect that at some point in God’s timing, that person is going to react differently – there is going to be some evidence of a heart-change or a healing facilitated by the Holy Spirit – and “insanity” will give way to praise and celebration!
Let it be so!
Most of us are facing relationship and forgiveness challenges in our lives – humans are not easy to deal with much of the time, and the more you care, the harder it is. But there is rest in the shadow of the Father’s wings and there is peace in the salvation and hope of Jesus Christ. I am so thankful for the love of God and for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit Who rushes in to fill me when my grace cracks and my countenance leaves much to be desired. He rescues me from despair and revives me with waters of refreshment. He lifts me up and returns my gaze to Jesus. He restores my soul and reminds me of my worth. Even in the throes of turmoil… I know who I am. Amen.
Matthew 18:21-22 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven. (NKJ)
Ephesians 4:2 With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,
Romans 12:2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.