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The Price We Pay To Forgive

Saturday evening is a powerful time on a Kairos Prison Ministry Weekend. Our focus that day is on forgiveness, and inmates and Kairos volunteers are encouraged to make a list of wrongdoers we need to release from our resentment, hatred, anger or pain. No one sees anyone else’s list; this is a private matter. Then in a “forgiveness ceremony” at day’s end, each person drops his own list of names into a bowl of water and watches as the dissolvable paper immediately and completely disappears before them. It is a powerful moment of liberation, understanding, peace and hope.

In his excellent book The Prodigal God, author Tim Keller wrote, “forgiveness always comes at a cost to the one granting the forgiveness.”1 As I paused to ponder his statement, the steep cost of forgiving others became clearer. We forfeit our right against those who have wronged us, and we destroy the moral IOUs we’ve vindictively waved in their face or bitterly stored in our heart. This was a cost the unmerciful servant in Jesus’ parable was unwilling to pay, for though his master had forgiven him much, he was unwilling to extend the same mercy to a peer who owned him little. [Read Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 18:21-35.] In forgiving others, we relinquish any notion of moral superiority, remembering that we have offended God far more than any one person has ever offended us, and yet we are forgiven. And when we forgive our debtors, we surrender our pride and risk vulnerability before those who have exploited it in the past.

But aren’t these just costs of the flesh, where we would be king? Surrendering grudges, accusations, bitterness, pride, relational isolation—isn’t this really addition by subtraction? Aren’t we happier without them? Or conversely, isn’t it taxing, in a way, to lug around a burgeoning ledger of resentments? Wouldn’t we prefer the sins of others and our grudges against them to be “hurled . . . into the depths of the sea,”2 where they dissolve for good?

God the Father “has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”3 Soak this in; it is true. Then as a people forgiven and brought into God’s kingdom, may we freely forgive others at the cost of our own.

“Be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”—Ephesians 4:32 NASB

Father, Your Son bore the ultimate price for our sin. Humble us in Your love, that we would at any cost forgive those who have trespassed against us. Grace us to live in the freedom of forgiveness. In Christ we pray. Amen.

1 Tim Keller , The Prodigal God, (Dutton: New York), 83.
2 Micah 7:19
3 Colossians 1:13-14