Oh, so many years ago we moved up to the frozen tundra. At least that’s what north central Illinois felt like to this Florida native. Keith worked with a small church there and I experienced blizzards, snowmen, and sledding for the first time in my life. I also experienced a grudge-holder to end all grudge-holders.
An older fellow, a corn and soybean farmer, invited us to visit and before we had time to warm the seats of the chairs in his white two story farmhouse, he proceeded to give us some “important information.” Another family in the church, he proclaimed, was not the faithful, unselfish, godly family they claimed to be. Then one by one he listed all the “wrongs” they had done him, most of which amounted to being more prosperous than he. They surely must have sinned to get that way!
Keith was older and more experienced than I. He saw through the “helpful” manner this man had adopted, and before his list was complete, Keith had asked a few probing questions that left him flummoxed. Somehow this was not going the way he expected it would. When we left that day, he had not accomplished his mission at all, which is entirely as it should have been. When someone comes running to pour garbage on you, step aside as quickly as possible. The truth will out, and before long the fruits we saw in both families made apparent who was and was not “faithful.”
If I had just finished the faith study back then, it would have been obvious to even me. After all that research, the huge lists of passages I had, and the categories I eventually sorted them into, I found several mentioning circumstances that require “extra” faith to handle. One of them made me laugh out loud at first, then it made me sit back and say, “Well, of course.”
In Luke 17, Peter, somewhat proudly, asked the Lord if forgiving someone seven times wasn’t a “gracious” plenty. No, Jesus tells him. Not seven times, but seventy times seven. I am positive Peter got the point—there should be no end to forgiving others; there must be no “last straw”--because he immediately exclaimed, “Lord! Increase our faith!” He understood that a failure to forgive is a sign of weak faith.
I have puzzled over how those two things are connected for quite awhile now. Finally I see two possibilities.
First, God says He will avenge me; I don’t have to worry about doing it myself. Not to believe that is to question the love and care God has for me, a love He demonstrated in no uncertain terms when He gave His only begotten Son. Of course He will avenge me. If I don’t believe that, I may as well not believe the incarnation of the Lord.
And then this: do I believe that God will forgive me an infinite number of times? I am supposed to be His child, striving to become like Him. If I can’t forgive, then maybe I don’t believe He forgives, and if He doesn’t forgive, then my whole belief system is flawed. Why do I bother?
Our American culture tends to laud as strong those who fight back, take revenge, and hold grudges. “That’s going too far,” and, “I just won’t take that,” has been uttered in countless movies by “the strong, silent type.” And what do we all do? We applaud the man who finally refuses to turn the other cheek. We admire the man who fights back. We approve the man who chooses not to forget the sins against him—the one who says, “I’ll never be hurt again.”
What if God said those things about us? Aren’t you shivering in your boots to realize where you would be if God hadn’t said instead, “Your sins I will remember no more,” and “Though your sins be as scarlet they shall be as white as snow.” Aren’t you thrilled beyond measure to read the inspired words of John, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness?” (Jer 31:34; Isa 1: 18; 1 John 1:9)
Do you ever find yourself wanting to tell everyone about the people you think have mistreated you? You and that old Illinois farmer are standing in the same shoes. Take off those shoes for you are standing on the Holy Ground of a God who loves and forgives to an infinite measure. If you want to stand with Him, you must forgive in the same way.
“Lord, increase our faith.”
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." Romans 12:19.