What Unforgiveness Really Means

We all know that we’re supposed to forgive people who’ve wronged us, but sometimes we just don’t want to. Sometimes, people do things that really hurt, and it seems more appropriate to us to hold a grudge. It seems to be a popular pastime these days, with people going as far as to hold grudges over wrongs inflicted on their ancestors centuries ago. Whether it’s over a great injustice or a minor slight, holding a grudge is always wrong, as Jesus taught in Matthew 18:21-35:

Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.

“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’ And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”

Obviously, God is not okay with unforgiveness. Why? Because holding a grudge when God has forgiven you of your sins is the height of arrogance. It makes you out to be holier than God. What we say when we refuse to forgive is that we are so holy that any offense against us must be paid for, but God can just let it slide, it’s no big deal. This is an inversion of reality, and a horrendous lie. The truth is that God is so holy that He can’t just let our sins slide, there must be payment. Even the ‘smallest’ of our sins against God (which is all sin) are so great that any sin committed against us pales in comparison. That is the reason Jesus came, to pay the price for our sins so that God could forgive us, and still be perfectly just. No wonder He is angered when we choose not to forgive; the one who refuses to forgive is claiming that he is better than God, and that the sacrifice of Christ is not enough to cover sins committed against him.

Rather than holding a grudge, the knowledge that God forgives our sins, even though each one is a direct affront to Him, should drive us to forgive others no matter how great their offence. There is no sin so bad that, when committed against us, gives us an excuse to not forgive the one who sins against us. If the thrice-holy God can forgive us of our sins against Him, certainly we should be able to forgive others, whose sins against us are nothing compared to those for which God has forgiven us.

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