Why is it so hard to forgive?
My first year in seminary I worked in real estate and went to school. I made very little money - I think I sold 4 houses total that year. Between paying for school, paying to live, and not being a very good real estate agent I found myself in an interesting position come tax time. I owed the government a good chunk of money (I was self employed) and I didn't have that money. How was I ever going to pay my debt?
I learned several things about debt during that situation, but the biggest thing I learned was this: (get ready it is ground breaking) There are two ways to pay off your debt - you pay it or someone pays it for you.
PAYMENT AND THE PASSOVER: Exodus 12
Have you ever noticed what the blood of the lamb is for in Exodus 12? Up until this week I believed it only functioned as a DO NOT ENTER sign for the Death Angel. But I don't think this is the case. The text tells us the blood is a "sign for you (Israel)" not for The Destroyer. Here is the point - the blood wasn't a distinguishing mark of what team you played for Egypt vs Israel, but rather a mark that someone or something paid down your debt for you. As Tim Keller puts it, everyone in Egypt that night experienced death, for some it was a lamb and for others it was a child. The Destroyer came to collect on a debt for sin. Some paid the debt themselves some had the debt paid for them.
THE ECONOMICS OF FORGIVENESS
In the economy of forgiveness, the simple fact of debt holds true, when we are offended, no matter how great or how small, the accounts must be reconciled. The longer we avoid reconciling our conflicts and offenses the worse things get. Bitterness and hatred now compound great hurt and pain. Years and years of unpaid debts add up and the effects are daunting. So how do we deal with this seemingly all to common issue of unforgiveness? Two ways.
1. MAKE THE OFFENDER PAY THEIR DEBT
This is the most common way we approach forgiveness. We sit as the judge and jury and assess the damage of the offense, set a fee that must be paid, and see to it that they pay the full price of their offense. I have learned in watching this method played out and exercising this method myself that people can never repay the costs we feel are just. In turn, we never forgive and we, ourselves, become much less human in the process.
2. WE PAY THE DEBT OF OUR OFFENDER
This is much more difficult and much less popular method for forgiveness. If you choose this route of forgiveness, every time hatred rises in your heart you must pay the offender's debt with a prayer for grace. Every time you want to slander the person who wronged you, you must pay the debt down with kindness and silence. Every time you are reminded of the pain and hurt you experienced, at a deep cost to you, you must deposit more funds of forgiveness to ensure the offender is debt free. NO ONE left up to their own desires ever chooses this payment method. It is infinitely more costly and a lot less "fun".
THE GOSPEL OF FORGIVENESS
The truth is no one can actually carry out true forgiveness without having experienced the forgiveness Jesus has offered to us. As Jesus hung on the cross, he finally and fully uttered, "Forgive them for they don't know what they have done". Here Jesus paid our debt, the debt of the world, for us. ONLY when we come to grips with how great our debt and offenses truly are, will we ever be able to pay the debt of the offenses we receive and offer forgiveness to our offenders. Just as the lamb paid for Israel, so did the truer and greater Lamb pay for the sins of the world. Forgiveness is the bloody and painful payment for someone else's debt, in it we find true life.