The disciples' question about forgiveness is really a timeless one, and one that believers and unbelievers alike are prone to ask at some point in life. Forgiving is perhaps the most pressing emotional challenge human beings face as it puts us squarely face to face with our own disappointment, anger, sense of betrayal, humiliation, and a host of other feelings.
The Bible says that Jesus is one who feels everything we feel, and he was constantly challenged to forgive the slights, insults, hurts and humiliations every human faces during his 33 years on this earth. Born to a woman who was held in scorn by her home village, giving birth to Jesus before she and Joseph consummated their marriage vows, poor and scratching for a living all through his life, held in contempt as having come from a village where nothing good was ever deemed to come (Nazareth), and on and on. He felt the pain that both Mary and Joseph suffered at the slights and insults of their neighbors. He was maligned and put down and challenged during the 3 years of his public ministry. The supreme level of betrayal occurred during his trial just a day or two before his crucifixion, when even his best friends disappeared, and hearing Peter deny ever having known him just days after declaring undying friendship and love for his Master. Yet on the Cross, in the throes of suffication and pain, Jesus said: "Father, forgtive them, for they know not what they do."
In that moment, Jesus lived out everything he had ever taught.
And he clearly taught that forgiveness is to be the atmosphere in which our faith grows best.
Forgiveness is never about the other person or group. It is always about our willingness to be obedient to Christ's command to forgive 70 x 7. In using that seeming ridiculous number, Jesus let us know that the spirit of forgiveness must be a permanent resident in our hearts, our souls, our minds. It is the atmosphere where the Holy Spirit has freedom to bring peace and growth within, while refusing to allow the bitterness of old hurts and disappointments to take root. Simple? Yes. Easy? Never. Yet to forgive is to in some sense "put the ball in the other person's court." It is to refuse to allow the hurt or disappointment to become the focus of our thoughts, to create the atmosphere in which life decisions are made.
How different our lives may have been if we were to take the Lord's directives seriously!!
"In heavenly love abiding, no change my heart shall fear;
And safe is such confiding for nothing changes here.
The storm may roar without me, my heart may low be laid,
But God is round about me. And can I be dismayed?"