Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. Matthew 18:21-35
At 2:15 in the afternoon on March 28, 2010, Conor McBride, a tall, sandy-haired 19-year-old wearing jeans, a T-shirt and New Balance sneakers, walked into the Tallahassee Police Department and approached the desk in the main lobby. Gina Maddox, the officer on duty, noticed that he looked upset and asked him how she could help. “You need to arrest me,” McBride answered. “I just shot my fiancée in the head.” When Maddox, taken aback, didn’t respond right away, McBride added, “This is not a joke.”
He had indeed, in a fit of rage, gunned down his fiancée, Ann Grosmaire, and she would die from her injuries days later. The Grosmaire family story was told in a long-form piece in the New York Times from several years ago called, Can Forgiveness Play a Role in Criminal Justice?
The article describes the scene,
That night, Andy Grosmaire, Ann’s father, stood beside his daughter’s bed in the intensive-care unit of Tallahassee Memorial Hospital. The room was silent except for the rhythmic whoosh of the ventilator keeping her alive. Ann had some brainstem function, the doctors said, and although her parents, who are practicing Catholics, held out hope, it was clear to Andy that unless God did “wondrous things,” Ann would not survive her injuries. Ann’s mother, Kate, had gone home to try to get some sleep, so Andy was alone in the room, praying fervently over his daughter, “just listening,” he says, “for that first word that may come out.”
Ann’s face was covered in bandages, and she was intubated and unconscious, but Andy felt her say, “Forgive him.” His response was immediate. “No,” he said out loud. “No way. It’s impossible.” But Andy kept hearing his daughter’s voice: “Forgive him. Forgive him.”
Andy Grosmaire knew what all of us know: forgiveness is hard.
Jesus taught that the same spiritual apparatus that gives forgiveness away is the one that actually receives soul-forgiveness. It is the same spiritual valve. If it is closed off towards others, then it is an indication that it was never open to receive from God.
The Forgiveness Principle: Forgiven people, forgive. And they only forgive others to the degree in which they have been forgiven.
To refuse to forgive someone is to allow resentment to build up in the soul. I can’t remember who said it, but it is so true, “Resentment is the poison we swallow, while we hope the other person dies.”
But when your soul has been ravished by God’s forgiveness, you are on the hunt for those who need to be forgiven. True Christians are world-class forgivers. We are the gold-standard for mercy.
Desmond Tutu from South Africa spent his life trying to get white and black South Africans to forgive one another said, “You and I have no future without forgiveness.”
Every time we take a step to begin to forgive, we are living the Jesus-rhythm of dying, rising, giving, and receiving God’s outlandish forgiveness ever more deeply into the depths of our life.
Never mistake forgetting for forgiving.
Forgiveness has nothing to do with forgetting. It’s easy to become confused. The Bible teaches that God is able to forgive and forget.
For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” Jeremiah 31:34
Notice that it never says that we are to do the same. We can’t. Only He can. One reason why God can forget is that there is nothing he needs to learn by remembering. There’re tons of important information that we can learn by remembering, even though we may not want to remember.
Does God forget the way we forget when we can’t remember where we left our keys? No. God does not have amnesia—to say God forgets is to say that he feels about us the way he would feel if he had forgotten.
Author Lewis Smedes reminds us,
You will know that forgiveness has begun when you recall those who hurt you and feel the power to wish them well.
That’s why remembering, not forgetting, is the key to forgiveness. Forgiving does not mean forgetting. It’s draining the past of its power to hurt us.
Be willing to take a step to forgive one more time.
Forgiveness always begins with a decision. It is an act of the will, even though we may not “feel like it” at the moment. I decide to work towards releasing you from the “debt” you “owe” me.
Often even after we have decided to forgive someone, the painful emotions rise up again and make us want to send an invoice on the relational debt.
Is Jesus saying that we only have to forgive 77 times? Then on the 78th time they hurt us we can bloody their nose? No. As often as I think of you and feel pain, I re-release you from your debt. The point is for a follower of Jesus you place no deadline on the willingness to offer somebody pardon.
It’s a journey, it’s not a moment. And the deeper the hurt, the longer the road. Jesus invites us simply to be willing to do it one more time to do one more time.
Eventually, Andy Grosmaire was willing to take that one more time step. He processed his rage, his grief, his sadness—and in the end he chose to take a step to forgive.
This is what the writer of that article says about his own journey. He says “Ann’s parents strive to model their lives on Jesus and forgiveness is deep in their creed. Andy says, “I realized it was not just my daughter Ann asking me to forgive her killer. It was Jesus Christ,” Andy recalls. and I hadn’t said no to him before, and I wasn’t going to start then. I felt just a wave of joy and I told Anne in that hospital room, “I’ll do it.”
This is somebody whose life has been marked by the outlandish forgiveness of God.
So, friends may you experience God’s forgiveness deep in your being and may you extend it because you and I have no future without forgiveness.