The Depth of Forgiveness
May 16, 2017
by Garrett Hawes
The Depth of Forgiveness
By Garrett Hawes
Has there ever been a particular story or Bible verse that struck you deeply? Today I am going to share about one of the verses that has been on my mind recently, why it has impacted me, and hopefully it impact you was well.
The passage is Luke 7:40-43. In this passage, a Pharisee (religious teacher) named Simon, sits with Jesus and silently condemns Him for his choice of associates, namely “sinners”, so Jesus tells this short parable:
“A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?” Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And He said to him, “You have judged correctly.”
The reason that this passage stuck out to me is that I cannot help but feel like the debtor who owed fifty denarii. When I hear the testimonies of many other Christians, my sins always feel small. They tell stories of deep significant redemption. There can be no question God changed their lives drastically. Or they tell stories of heart wrenching hurt and wrongs perpetrated against them which God stepped in and healed dramatically. This is not to say somehow I think I am sinless. I certainly recognize that I’m not, but when I compare myself to their stories of redemption, I somehow feel less, like my sins are smaller.
This self-assessment makes me feel uneasy, even scared, when I consider the words in Luke. Do I love Christ less having been forgiven little? The outlook seems even bleaker when I think of the attitude of the older son in the parable of the prodigal son. The older son lived faithfully in his father’s house while the younger son was away sinning. When the younger son returns and is joyfully accepted back, the older son becomes bitter and hardhearted towards both his brother and father. He feels like he deserves the praise and celebration that his brother receives. I see it as the same story as the debtors: forgiven little, loves little. The younger brother dealt with blatant and obvious sin, but at the end of the story it is the older brother who is left standing outside the father’s house.
It’s in these moments of fear that I can identify the voice of the enemy saying: “That’s right. You do love Jesus only a little. You better work hard and prove your love for him or else…” It makes me think: How can I possibly love Jesus as much as these other people- look at all the things He has done for them, brought them through, and redeemed them of?
But this is where I have been so wrong– that understanding of sin is incomplete because it ignores the character of Christ. Humans like to compare and contrast value, God doesn’t. The character of Jesus is described as “Holy, Holy, Holy” in Revelation. It’s the only character trait I can think of being repeated 3 times over in the Bible to describe God. This is something that is deeply fundamental about Him. We also see His holiness in the garden where a single sin, and one that by human standards seems pretty small, forces separation from God. It is forced for humanity’s sake because even one single sin cannot stand in the presence of a perfectly holy God.
The story of the paralyzed man recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke helps us understand the way the religious thought about God’s holiness and forgiveness before Jesus’ death and resurrection. In this story, a completely paralyzed man is brought to Jesus for healing and the first thing Jesus says is “Take courage, son: your sins are forgiven.” Some of the religious leaders question this, saying He must be speaking heresy since only God can forgive sins. In response, Jesus says: “Which is easier: to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” or to say, “Get up and walk?” The point of this statement is that both of those things are easy to say, but to actually do them? It is impossible. I mean, newsflash: paralyzed people do not get up and walk, ever.
Jesus however, does the impossible: He tells the man to get up and walk and he does it! This miracle is merely meant to illustrate the first miracle, that Jesus can forgive sins. You see, sins always separate us from a holy God and without Christ, reconciliation is as equally impossible as healing a paralyzed man. I mean, newsflash: sins against a perfectly holy God do not get forgiven, ever. But Christ comes in and demonstrates His power to do the impossible by doing both; healing a paralyzed man with just a word and forgiving sins through His death and resurrection.
So where does this leave me? First and foremost, it reminds me of the depth of my sin, which I often trivialize. My background in a mathematically minded home and my training in engineering mean that I often think about spiritual matters mathematically. This may seem unusual but it helps me process through things logically and brings me clarity. In this case, there is one particular mathematic principle that I find highly applicable and want to explain briefly. For the non-mathematical folks- stay with me, and you’ll see where this goes.
When you attempt to divide a number by zero it doesn’t work. It’s called undefined or infinity, which is another way of saying it is unobtainable by typical mathematical operations such as addition and multiplication. Infinity is a useful concept to help finite humans deal with the result- that fact that it is not a number. The next step though is even more important. You see any number divided by zero is infinite. It does not matter how big or small the number was to begin with, because when you divide by zero you always get the same infinity. This works because infinity isn’t a number. And to be clear this isn’t some sort of hand waving or simplification- it is a mathematical fact in the same way that two plus two equals four. Take one and divide it by zero; infinity. Take one million and divide it by zero; infinity.
Now let’s use that in the context of Luke’s story of the moneylender and his two debtors. The number is the denarii or however we might try and count our sin. The zero is God’s perfect holiness; zero sin. The principle tells us it does not matter if the number is fifty, five hundred, or five thousand. All come up equally short; equally and infinitely far away from God’s zero. For those unfamiliar, one denarii is considered a day’s wage. Call it $100 today. So the guy who owed fifty owed about $5,000. While the guy who owed 500 owed $50,000, but a key point here is both were unable to repay.
This is how it became clear to me; my so-called ‘fifty’ denarii is still a price I cannot repay. In fact, I cannot even hope to, because my so-called “small” sin infinitely separates me from God’s holiness.
This is the best news because I am met with the truth that Christ has already paid the price to remove my separation from Him. And that truth overcomes the lie that I do not love God. Indeed how could I not when His perfect love has done so much for me; paying the price that I cannot even come close to paying.
In light of this, my love of Christ is not limited by whatever I view my debt to be. My debt, my sin, my hurt, all of it is unpayable; it is infinite. But the forgiveness of Christ is also infinite! It repays all of my sin, the paralyzed man’s sin, and the sins of everyone I would compare myself to. Going back to the original story, we can conclude that he who was forgiven infinitely can also love infinitely. Therefore the love I show for Christ and the life I live in him has the possibility to be infinite. It’s the same infinite that everyone whose story I think is better than mine has and the same infinite that every child and believer of Christ has. This is what is possible when you acknowledge infinite sin and receive from Jesus infinite forgiveness.
**Garrett is hard to miss in a crowd- the tall blonde wearing a Hawaiian shirt with the contagious laugh. He is known for being the husband of Vi, enthusiasm for board games, and a knack for personal finances.**