When I was in seminary, one of my professors, Dr. Abraham Terian, told us seminarians, “Christians are in the business of forgiving. That is their job.” This sounds simple, but it is simple in principle, yet difficult to put into practice.
This is not a new teaching and in fact, Christ preaching dozens of times about forgiveness. He could see the need to teach and preach forgiveness to the multitudes and to His disciples. We see this throughout the Gospels in multiple parables and in separate verses.
Jesus said we are to forgive others “seventy times seven” in response to Peter’s question, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” (Matthew 18:21-22). It is clear that we are called to forgive. Unfortunately, many have the wrong understanding of forgiveness and, as a result, we withhold our forgiveness from others and refuse to forgive even once, let alone seventy times seven.
Forgiveness is greatly misunderstood in our society. When we think of forgiveness, we automatically think that it means we approve or condone another’s actions against us. This is because of how we react to someone asking for forgiveness. When someone says, “I’m sorry”, what is our natural reaction? It is ok. Don’t worry about it. It is not a big deal. When we say these things, of course we are agreeing and condoning that person’s actions. Yet this is not what forgiveness is and we are wrong to do it.
When God forgives us, He does not approve or condone what we have done. He does not say, “Oh it is ok that you committed that horrific sin”. Rather, He tells us to go and leave our life of sin (John 8:11). Forgiveness is not accepting, approving or condoning another’s actions against us, but something much more beautiful which we see in the Armenian word “to forgive”: ներել/nerel.
The verb, “to forgive” in Armenian is ներել/nerel comes from the Armenian word, “in, within” which is ներս/ners. This means when we forgive someone, we are actually bringing that person into a relationship with us again. We are allowing a relationship to take place. When we ask God for forgiveness, He forgives us with the understanding that we are entering into new relationship with Him. Likewise, when someone asks for forgiveness from us, that person is asking to be brought back into a relationship with that us.
We see this in probably the most famous parable about forgiveness: the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). When the father sees his son returning from a life of wantonness, and he runs out with a robe, ring and orders that the fatted calf be killed, the prodigal son asks for forgiveness. Never does the father say or even imply what his son has done is acceptable. Even the prodigal son’s older brother is under the impression that his father is condoning his brother’s actions. But the father’s response testifies to what forgiveness truly is, “for your brother was dead and now is alive; he was lost and not he is found” (Luke 15:32b).
The father rejoices and forgives so that his prodigal son and he can enter into a new relationship. When Christ answer to Peter of forgiving seventy times seven means we must allow relationships to be formed again after an offence has taken place. If we do not forgive, then we are preventing relationships from forming. This includes friends, family members, co-workers and even enemies.
Let us forgive someone this week. Let us allow a relationship, which may have suffered due to a lack of forgiveness, be repaired. Let us remember that through forgiving we do not condone sins, but repair relationships.