Have you ever heard of a debtor’s prison? It is actually a stupid concept. It is an ancient method of punishment that still exists in many countries today. Think about this. A guy owes money right? So they take him and his family and throw them behind bars until they can pay. How do you pay while in prison? It’s like that Tyco executive who stole over 100 million from his shareholders and now he is in jail. The shareholders won’t get anything out of him now.
One time in the Bible (Matt 18), one of Jesus’ disciples named Peter asks Him how often he should forgive people who hurt him. Peter thinking nobly asks “7 times?”. Jesus says, “70 times 7” which was a figure of speech for them that represented infinity. He knew that blew their minds so as He often did, He told them a story about debts and prison cells.
He says there was this king who had this guy working for him who owed him an astronomical debt-10,000 talents. It took the average worker 20 years to earn 1 talent! What did this guy do to rack up that much debt? This is an impossible debt.
He could not pay. So, as was custom in that day, the king ordered for he, his wife, and children to be sold into slavery. The man begs and pleads for more time and promises to pay. (He obviously has no concept of what he actually owes.) Then the king does something that no one would ever expect. He is moved with compassion for the guy, releases him, and forgives every penny (talent) of his debt. It would be a gross understatement to say that this forgiveness cost the king a fortune.
You would think the guy would leave that debtors’ prison jumping up and down for joy and experiencing a tremendous sense of release. This was not the case. His behavior was to say the least peculiar. He immediately went out and found someone who owed him a couple of months’ pay. He roughed the guy up, choked him and said, “Pay me what you owe me right now!” The guy begged, “Be patient with me, and I will pay you all of it”.
You would think this guy is going to remember the astronomical debt he was just forgiven, come to his senses and let this guy off, right? Nope! He would not forgive him and threw him into prison until he could pay. Kind of dumb to throw a guy into prison because he can never repay while in jail.
I have a question. Has this guy lost his mind? Did this guy forget his own forgiveness? I don’t think so. I don’t think he believed it. It was too good to be true so it must not be true. The king is probably going to change his mind and recall the debt so he had better get busy collecting every bit of debt owed him.
I bet you know where Jesus is going with this, don’t you?
Those of us who have been wounded, recognize it, and turn to the King receive something very surprising from Him as well. We receive forgiveness and healing from the avalanche of our own sin coming at us from the mountain of debt that we personally owe God. Our heavenly Father has been moved with compassion and absorbed our debt at the expense of His only Son and our King-Jesus.
I believe the reason that some people don’t find forgiveness in their hearts for others is because they don’t have any. You have got to have some to give some. If I truly believe this good news of forgiveness and receive it, I find it so much easier to release others from my little prison cells I have built in my mind for them. In light of the things that I have done throughout the course of my life, that God has truly forgiven (by hurting Jesus), how can I not find it in my heart to forgive others for hurting me?
The only other option is to not forgive. I hold on to the offense. I keep my debtor in prison (my mind). I get to relive it over and over in my mind. Sounds like torture to me. And that is exactly what it is. Listen to Jesus as he finishes His story:
"Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. 'Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?' "And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. "So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses." Matt 18: 32-35 NKJ
The reason many find themselves returning to the same place of relational brokeness again and again is because we are doing a life sentence with the torturers. They will be with us for the long haul if we cannot find it in our hearts to forgive from our hearts those who have hurt us.
You might say, “I can’t afford to forgive that”.
That’s right you can’t. But God is “rich in mercy” and will give you all you need and more. Freely you have received, freely give.