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How Many Times Must I Forgive?

by Abi Foerster on April 23, 2024

Listen & Center Yourself

"Forgive our sins as we forgive," you taught us, Lord, to pray;
but you alone can grant us grace to live the words we say. 

(Verse 1 from Hymn No. 390, UMH)

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude." Accepting and giving forgiveness may be one of the most important aspects of living. Likewise, the Assurance of Pardon is one of the most significant parts of our Christian worship: "In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven!"  These words may offer healing and hope for many in worship, even beyond anything else said or sung. Forgiveness is not only a personal way of living, but also a balm of healing in our conflicted world.  How many times do we observe centuries of hate and hurt that, because of the inability to forgive, continue to fester and cause suffering, death, and destruction?  In worship this week, we lifted to God the conflict in Palestine and Israel, the war in Ukraine, as well as other personal experiences of hurt and brokenness in our own hearts – seeking not only reconciliation but peace.

The Companion to Hymns and Psalms (1988), the companion to the 1983 Methodist hymnal used in England, provides the origins of the hymn "Forgive Our Sins as We Forgive". 1

Rosamond E. Herklots (b. Masuri, India, 1905; d. Bromley, Kent, England, 1987) wrote these words in June 1966 after digging out weeds in her garden and thinking how bitterness, hatred, and resentment are like poisonous weeds growing in the Christian Garden of life. "Forgive Our Sins" is a hymn about being ready to forgive others again and again - as Jesus said, seventy-times-seven times! We have many hymns about God's forgiveness of our sins, but this one adds a most helpful guide in forgiving others' sins.

Take a moment to center your spirit and clear your mind from the day’s activities as you listen to (or sing) the words of this hymn in The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 390.

Forgive Our Sins As We Forgive (youtube.com)

Reflection on Forgiveness

Sometimes it is hard to imagine forgiveness is possible.  We harbor resentment from hurts past – some significant, others trivial.  This Sunday in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, we saw the father barreling towards his long-lost son who had once asked for his inheritance – before he had even died!  After realizing the error of his ways, this son returned home expecting retribution, resentment, and anger.  Instead, he was bear hugged by a father who loved him unconditionally (what a beautiful snapshot of the heart of God for all his wayward children!).  Meanwhile the older son looked on as the party continued into the night, choosing to “remain outside” and incredulous that his father would welcome his younger brother back so easily. 

As we consider forgiveness, this parable prompts another consideration: “How many times must we forgive?” Every time someone offends us.  Occasionally?  If the person is truly sorry for their actions?  Never.  Jesus answers our question in another story about forgiveness in the Gospel of Matthew 18:21 – 35. 


Matthew 18:21 - 35 MSG - A Story About Forgiveness - At that - Bible Gateway

The question is asked because we know that we are supposed to forgive. It’s part of who God made us to be; yet we also know that it is one of the hardest things we are asked to do as a people who follow Christ. It’s especially difficult in a world where everything is portrayed as “us versus them,” and we shouldn’t forgive or forget. This conversation can be hard, but understanding what it means to forgive is extremely important.

Our Vesper scripture passage talks about the need to forgive in a world where forgiveness is not what is expected or required. Peter asks: How many times must I forgive? Jesus responds that we need to forgive more times than we can count. We need to forgive infinitely because God calls us to do that when God says we must love everyone. It also shows us that others are working to forgive us, and, in turn, we must offer grace, mercy and forgiveness to them.

Yet, we aren’t living in forgiving times. Even a cursory glance at the news will tell us that. When we’re divided into us and them, forgiveness rarely enters the conversation.  Yet, even in his last breath, Jesus asked God to forgive us (Luke 23:34). What an amazing grace!   A similar message is in the Lord’s prayer; “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).  I wonder, do we hear this call from our Lord as a call to live counterculturally? Are we to swim against the tide of anger and vengeance and hatred, and present a different face to the world? Isn’t this risky, this forgiveness thing? Well, yes. If we’re doing it right. It will be risky, scary and world-changing; it will be transformative if we take this call seriously.

Worth Pondering

  1. How does the act of forgiving feel similar or different from the act of being forgiven?  How is forgiveness different or deeper than simply saying, “I’m sorry”?
  2. What does it mean to show grace and mercy to others?
  3. Even when we forgive, does a remnant of what has happened remain within us?  How do we live in such a way that we forgive and allow what has happened to continue to shape and form us into who God created us to be?

Prayer Before the Day Ends

Gracious and Loving God, thank you for forgiving us endlessly. Grant us the strength to forgive others who have offended or hurt us in some way, releasing any bitterness or resentment. May the transformative power of forgiveness bring healing and reconciliation in our relationships. In and through Christ, we pray.  Amen.

1 From the History of Hymns by C. Michael Hawn from umcdiscipleship.org.

Tags: love, forgiveness, reconciliation, vespers