This past Sunday, I wrapped up a series on the first twelve chapters of the book of Exodus. It has left me thinking a good deal about forgiveness. In particular, the fact that it's never free.
The reason one led to the other is the way the plagues end. It was only after the death of Egypt's firstborn that Pharaoh submitted. Not to mince words but Israel walked free because people died.
This foreshadowed the believer's freedom from the bondage of sin. We're free because the Firstborn of Creation (Col 1:15) died. In other words, our forgiveness came at the cost of God's only Son.
Thankfully, because of Christ, such a payment will never be demanded of us but that doesn't make it any easier. Forgiveness is never free.
Intrinsic to the idea of forgiveness is the concept of loss. There's a progression. Someone wrongs us and the result is, to some degree, hurt. We feel that way because something's been taken from us like if we've been physically injured.
When that happens, what we've lost is comfort. It's been replaced by pain. Think back to a bad breakup you had. Whatever that person meant to you, when the relationship ended, you lost what they provided. The benefit died.
Human beings don't process pain in a vacuum. We can't simply consider it in the abstract. Our equilibrium is upset and in order to reestablish it, blame must be assigned. It's as natural as breathing. We feel this way and we shouldn't and it's someone's fault and as soon as we've identified the culprit, that person owes us. I'm not saying it's wrong. It's just life.
It could be an apology, maybe money (in the case of a car wreck), or possibly even penance. How many times have we heard (or used) the words, "I trusted you. It's going to take time to earn that back."
This is precisely why forgiveness comes at a price, and a particularly high one at that. When we forgive, we effectively release that person from their debt. We are choosing to forgo restitution. That's expensive.
Sometimes, it's so costly that the only solution is emotional foreclosure. When the debt is deemed too great to ever repay, the relationship consequently ends. Many of us are casualties of such a conclusion.
Those who trust in Christ, however, are not doomed to walk down that road. Foreclosure is not inevitable. We can be motivated by more than the economics of emotional value.
I am confident of this for two reasons. The first is Jesus' example. To quote the author of Hebrews, "Consider Him who has endured such hostilities by sinners against Himself," (12:3). Can that even be quantified? If we were to follow Paul's words in Ephesians 4:32, "Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you," would any grudge last the night?
It isn't complicated. If He forgave me for everything I did, I should be able to forgive others for anything they've done.
The second is His provision. Philippians 4:19 states, "And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus."
If this is true, then I already possess everything I need. It may not be all that I want. I might have to make an adjustment or two but if the apostle's assessment of reality is accurate, my cup is full. In fact, as a friend of mine often says, "It runneth over."
If my relationship with Christ has given me what I need, if His love has left me emotionally sufficient, then even when I am wronged, no matter what I have lost, I do not need to be repaid. No one owes me anything. I can, in fact, live a life that is relationally debt free.
This isn't easy. On the contrary, experience has taught me the opposite. It requires that I both acknowledge the words of Scriptures like Philippians 4:19, but that I also believe them. God asks me to trust Him. I have to live by faith instead of sight.
When I do, when I accept His death as a substitute, not just for my life, but for what I want out of life, I can forgive and forgiveness equals freedom both for me and those whom I hold dear.