Can We Over-Forgive?
By Allen White
How many times do you forgive a group member who’s offended you or outrightly sinned against you? When do you cut them off? Should there be limits on forgiveness, especially for repeat offenders?
In the Bible, Peter asks this question of Jesus: “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Matthew 18:21-22
Peter was willing to forgive. He just wanted to make sure that he didn’t lose count and over-forgive. After all, everything seems to have its limit. Why offer forgiveness when it’s undeserved?
Some translations use “seventy times seven,” while others use “seventy-seven” times. More often than not, the numbers in the Bible are figurative.
I had a professor in seminary who often said, “I wouldn’t bet my life on the numbers in the Bible.” He believed the Bible was the inspired word of God. He just understood the symbolic nature of numbers in Scripture.
So if we’re not to forgive literally 77 times or 490 times (70 x 7), then what is Jesus saying here? Some have interpreted what 70 and 7 represent. Seven is the Divine number in Scripture. Ten or a multiple of ten points to the exponential, if not infinite, nature of the point.
By using these numbers, Jesus pointed out how forgiveness is both Divine and unending. There is no cutoff at the 78th or 491st offense. Forgiveness should go on and on.
Now, there is a difference between forgiveness and co-dependency. Forgiveness is costly. Co-dependency is a burden. Forgiveness doesn’t guarantee reconciliation. Forgiveness isn’t an immediate pathway to trust. There are consequences beyond forgiveness. Yes, we are to turn the other cheek, but as my friend Paul says, “We only have two cheeks.”
How do we know when we’ve forgiven? Well, when we no longer hope the offender gets run over by a bus. When we can actually wish them well, then we know we’ve forgiven.
While the actual act of forgiveness doesn’t take much time, getting to the place where we’re willing to forgive might take a little longer. God is a genius at forgiveness. He will help you forgive even the unforgiveable.
Who do you need to forgive (again)? What’s keeping you from forgiving them?