Why is it important to forgive?

Once upon a time, there two skunks, a brother and a sister. They had both just come of age and were ready to move away from their mother. A nearby porcupine happened to be looking for a roommate. "You can live with me." he said to the brother skunk. "And your sister can stay with my sister."

The sister skunk was very excited. She moved right in with the sister porcupine, and soon came to regret it. In such close quarters, she regularly found herself stuck with her roommate's quills. Angered, she shot the porcupine with musk. Naturally, this angered the porcupine, who stuck the skunk with her quills. This induced another spray, which brought more quills, and so on. Even after the skunk had moved out, the two feuded constantly.

A year later, the sister skunk, covered with scabs, found her brother. He was sitting in a meadow beneath a spreading sycamore tree sharing a large bunch of grapes with the brother porcupine. "I don't get it." said sister skunk. "Don't you get stuck by his quills?"

"Sometimes." said her brother.

"And sometimes," added the porcupine. "He gets excited and sprays me."

"And yet you two are still friends? Don't you get mad at each other?"

"Of course we get mad." said brother skunk. "But when you live with a porcupine, you're going to get stuck sometimes. I'm not going to let that deprive me of the best friend I ever had."

If only we were all so wise.

It is human nature to fight. When someone hurts us, we want to hurt them back. I think we'll all agree that this isn't limited to human nature either. The desire for revenge is something which all higher-order animals share. In its place, it can be a good thing. It serves as a means of keeping those who would harm us or our loved ones from doing as they please. After all, what kind of idiot would smack a baby bear cub around with the mother standing right there? The problem is that the urge to retaliate against those who wrong us very easily goes beyond being a simple deterrent. Human history is rife with examples of this. The old testament gives us a perfect example of what happens when the cycle of retaliation goes unchecked. In Genesis 16, Hagar bore Ishmael. Hagar then began to feel contempt for Sarah, as she had borne the child in her place. Sarah became resentful. Later, Hagar would encourage Ishmael to mistreat Isaac. Sarah then fired Hagar and banished both her and Ishmael. Not only did the cycle of retaliation never stop, but it carried on through both Isaac's and Ishmael's decendants. The feud today has not only grown to include the entire middle east, but anyone perceived to be allied with either side.

While it is true that forgiveness has benefits to the forgiven, it is really primarily for the benefit of the one doing the forgiving. When we allow anger and hatred to fester in our hearts, we do more than simply alienate the one who hurt us. We poison ourselves, giving the devil a foothold in our lives. No good comes from dwelling on the desire to exact revenge on others. On the contrary, the results generally include headaches, ulcers, high blood pressure, indigestion, sleeplessness and nausea. It makes your ears hurt from staying pinned back all the time, dulls your fangs with all the tooth-grinding, and if you're the type that snarls a lot, it can put lots of wrinkle-lines on your muzzle. About the only benefit one can derive from throwing darts at someone they really hate is becoming very good at darts.

Not concerned about your health? Here's another reason to forgive.

Colossians 3:13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

If we are forgiven for our sins which are deserving of Hell, how can we do any less than forgive one another our offenses?

Let's take a look at the scripture lesson from earlier.

Matthew 18:21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" 22 Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. 23 "Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. 26 "The servant fell on his knees before him. 'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.' 27 The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. 28 "But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded. 29 "His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.' 30 "But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. 32 "Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' 34 In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. 35 "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart."

If we harbor unforgiveness in our hearts, we are demonstrating contempt for our our God and the forgiveness he has shown us. Refusing to live in peace with one another is a deliberate act of rebellion. How can we be reconciled to God at the same time we are rebelling?

The most basic and important reason, in my humble opinion, can be expressed with a line from a popular Hebrew song. "Enam a tov oo mon ayeem, chevet acheem gom yachad." (I hope I spelled that all correctly.) "Behold how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell in oneness."

Pastor Oren Otter
August 27, 2005