By The Rev. GARY R. MESSINGER
Special to the Sun-Gazette
You may have heard the story of the man who was bitten by a dog that later was found to be rabid.
The man was sent to the hospital for tests, which revealed that he had contracted the disease. Unfortunately, however, it was too late for treatment. The doctor had to inform him that his condition was incurable and terminal. The doctor also told him that they would do everything to make him comfortable but that he should put his affairs in order.
The man, shocked and despondent, asked for paper and pen. When he received them, he immediately started to write with great energy.
Hours later the doctor returned, and the man still was writing furiously. The doctor was impressed and expressed his delight to the man that he was writing his last will and testament. The man replied, "Doc, this is not my will. This is a list of people that I want to bite before I die."
Unfortunately, many individuals go through life, not necessarily with a written list, but with a mental list of the people who have hurt or mistreated them.
However, our Savior teaches something so different. In the 18th Chapter of Matthew there is an exchange between the disciple Peter and Jesus.
Peter asks, "Lord, how many often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?"
No doubt Peter thought seven times was pretty many; and I am sure that the answer Jesus gave surprised him. Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to 70 times seven."
President Eisenhower had an interesting approach to forgiveness. When someone offended him, he would write the name on a piece of paper, crumble it up, and throw it into a drawer. He then proceeded to say, "That finishes the incident; as far as I am concerned, I am finished with that person."
However, I do not believe that God wants us to fill wastebaskets or drawers with names of discarded people. Instead, I believe the scriptures teach us the following:
Our forgiveness must be limitless.
Our call to forgive is required and failure to do so puts us at odds with God.
Forgiveness means erasing the act and letting go with no revenge.
Forgiveness is granted, not earned. We choose to forgive the person who has wronged us.
When Jesus hung on the cross, He asked His Father to forgive them.
None of the perpetrators needed to ask for forgiveness, Jesus granted it.
The refusal to forgive is costly. Someone once said, "Having an unforgiving heart, filled with bitterness and resentment, is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die."
Finally, the source of forgiveness is God's forgiveness. We have a mountain of sin we cannot budge, much less remove. Only God can do that. And, if He does it for us, I believe 70 times seven is not too much to ask of us.
Messinger is the pastor at the First Baptist Church of Cedar Run.