In my last post I wrote that “sin is the only thing we can forgive.” I’d like to change that. Sin is one of only two things we can forgive. The other is debt.
In the parable of the unforgiving servant, the king forgives a debt of ten thousand talents, and the servant refuses to forgive a debt of 100 denarii. It occurred to me that we don’t know what the debts were for. One could quite easily imagine a situation in which either debt was an unjust one. I’m not saying Jesus had this back story in mind when He told the parable, just that unjust rulers and other bullies are not beyond our imagination. For instance, a large debt to a king might be an outrageous tax or something of that sort.
For a real-life scenario, I’ve just discovered that my father owed three years of back taxes that I thought had been paid. However outrageously rapacious our nation’s taxation is, however unjust, the debt is real. When I finish getting all the forms I need, I’m going to go to an IRS office and plead for some degree of relief. If it is granted, it will be forgiveness, and I will be grateful for it.
The judgment we exercise before forgiveness (see last post) must begin with ourselves. We must conduct an ocular exploration for large wooden objects. And we must examine the invoice detailing the debt. We may find that it is a just invoice, and we must tear it up and treat the other person as if it had never been owed. Or we may find that it was an unjust invoice, a bill for expectations we had no business charging to the other’s account, and we must tear it up and treat the other person as if it had never been owed.
In that latter sense, and only in that latter sense, we may find ourselves needing to forgive even God — to cancel our demands and expectations for things He never promised. And we must do this in human relationships when we charge up an unjust tab of expectations regarding how someone will behave toward us. A husband doesn’t act as romantic as a wife expects him to. A child isn’t as great an athlete as his dad expects him to be. A boss doesn’t give a raise his employee had hoped for. A friend isn’t friendly on the terms we required. Of course along with forgiving such expectations, we must also repent of them.
A few years ago my pastor’s wife led a study on marriage for the women in the church, and the gold nugget I took away to extrapolate and apply elsewhere was “let go of expectations.” I find myself again and again having failed to let go, but when I manage to so, I receive so much more from others because I am open to receiving whatever it is they actually have to offer instead of putting up an expectation-shaped filter that only allows what I demand to reach me. That filter deflects their gifts and rejects their persons. And that is actually a real sin…and not a small one.
I am grateful that we have a just King who never levies rapacious taxes or tests us beyond what we can bear. And I am grateful that He forgives so generously and graciously. We pray often that He would forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. I need to pray more fervently that I would forgive my debtors as He has forgiven my debts.