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Embracing Forgiveness When It's Easier to Go To War

Why Forgiveness is so Hard


It’s easier to go to war.

I’m not talking geopolitical battles, although it happens often enough. I am talking about the battles that rage in our homes, communities, workplaces, and churches. The wars that rage inside of us and around us are just as real as the wars we hear about in the news. We experience them often and just as often have a hard time figuring out how they originate.

When Persons Become Invisible

What often happens in conflict is that people and problems get mixed together. Pretty soon the person began to fade into the background and the problems became the person. Conflict coaching is often the most difficult kind of coaching to engage in. Friends, coworkers, colleagues, and family members in relational crisis can lose their perspective and begin focussing on the problems to the extant that the offenses and offenders blend indistinguishably together. One might say, that each person lost their personhood in the eyes of the other. In time, even seeing each other begins to be painful. Each person began to relate to the other from inside of a box, justifying their feelings and behavior because the other person was uncaring, insensitive, and lacking understanding.

This happens in marriage, work relationships, other family situations and nearly every conflict imaginable. People begin to see problems more than persons. They objectify the other people and then justify their own behavior based on their perceptions. The more they justify their own behavior the more they “see things” (more problems) and the less they see the person. Both want the other person to change their behavior. Neither realizes how much their own behavior is contributing to the conflict.

The First Step of Peace

The first step toward peace and forgiveness is often the most overlooked. This is true in marriage, work, community, and church relationships. The reason it’s overlooked isn’t because we don’t know we should forgive. Forgiveness is difficult because we don’t understand “why we don’t forgive?”

Admittedly, some forgiveness in hard. When a person has physically or sexually abused another person, forgiveness is still necessary, but so is justice. Forgiveness doesn’t mean abuse is ignored.

Addressing “Sin” and “Why We Don’t Forgive?”

Sometimes addressing sin is impossible because we don’t understand the root of sin and the beginning of forgiveness. It’s possible that the reason we “sin” against others and “why we don’t forgive?” are actually tied together.

Why Some Forgive and Others Don't

Matthew 18:21-35 tells the story of a king who calls the debt of servant. The debt is enormous. A talent was actually a weight measurement, not a coin. A Roman talent was 75 lbs. A Heavy Talent was 130 lbs.

The first servant (forgiven servant) in the story owed 10,000 talents, the equivalent of 750,000 lbs. 6,000 Denarii equaled 1 talent. A single denarii was worth a one day's labor. As you can see, the first servant owed an insurmountable debt to the king. Since the servant could not pay the debt the king ordered that everything the servant had, including his wife and children be sold, in an attempt to recover some of the debt. The servant begged the king for more time. He pleaded for mercy. There were likely uncontrolled tears and stories about his precious children and his wife along with promises to pay. The king was moved to the extent that he did more than just give more time for payment to be made. He forgave it all! Every penny! All 10,000 talents worth.

Soon after that same servant called the debt of a second servant. The second servant owed him 100 denarii. Remember, 1 denarii was equal to a day of labor, so the debt came to just under 20 weeks of labor. In anger, the first servant (who had been forgiven for his debt) seized his fellow servant (the un-forgiven servant) and began to choke him. The second servant also plead for patience. It was not given! The first “forgiven” servant refused. He threw his fellow servant in jail for non-payment.

Things that Get in the Way of Forgiveness

One might ask “Why?” Why would he not forgive?

The reason is obvious. The money (thing/object) was more important than the person. From the first servant's perspective, the money was more valuable than his fellow servant. His perspective can be illustrated in an equation using less than < greater than > symbols. The Unforgiven Servant was worth less than 100 Denarii (S < 100D). Or 100 Denarii is worth more than 1 servant (100 D > 1S). D = Denarii and S = Servant.

The servant is worth less than the object. The servant has been objectified. The servant’s value has been degraded. The servant is merely a means to an end and has no value other than the other servant's enrichment. The first servant was treated very differently. He also owed a debt. His debt wasn’t just greater, it was an un-payable debt. Apart from mercy, he had no hope of ever paying the debt. And one might ask, why did the king forgive that servant’s debt? Did the debt not matter?

The debt did matter. However, the king forgave the debt because of his perspective on what was more valuable. The king’s perspective can also be illustrated in an equation. The Servant was wort far more than10,000 Talents. The equation is one servant is greater than 10,00 talents (S > 10,000 T, or T < 10,000T). T = Talents and FS = Forgiven Servant.

The Root of Sin

It seems that the root of sin is often the “objectification” of people, especially in conflict. When objects are more valuable than people, forgiveness is impossible. Sometimes those objects are intangible things like a demand that the other person change before we forgive them.  We are demanding them to pay their “debt” to us. In such situations, the person has less value than whatever demand we are making.

The Beginning of Forgiveness

Forgiveness begins when we relate to people as real people, flesh and blood people, made in the image of God people. The king forgave the first servant because one forgiven servant was more valuable than a treasury full of money. One forgiven servant and his family was “a treasure” to the king and his kingdom. The king's most valuable asset was his people and their welfare. It was an easy trade. Having one servant saved was more important than having large sums of money.

Relating to Real People

5 Questions for Moving Toward Forgiveness.

Having a heart of forgiveness begins with seeing people, real people, flesh and blood, made in the image of God people, on the other end of every conflict. Some questions that can help us move toward forgiveness.

Begin to think about the “things” that get in the way of your relationship(s).

  1. What demands are you making of other people “before” you begin to extend to them the forgiveness that they need?

  2. What are the most valuable “things” in your life right now?

  3. Are you demanding that another person changes before you relate to them?

  4. Based on your demands, what might you need to change before you can properly relate to another person?