Do mercy and forgiveness have the same meaning? Maybe they are two sides of the same coin?
Matthew West’s song, Forgiveness, has been on my mind lately.
“It’s the hardest thing to give away
And the last thing on your mind today
It always goes to those that don’t deserve
Forgiveness.” (from the song above)
Mercy is somehow intertwined with forgiveness.
Matthew 18:21-35 (NIV)
21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven.
23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold[h] was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins.[i] He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.
29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’
30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.
32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
How many times should we forgive our brother? 490 is a concrete number, but really the concept is figurative, meaning every time. Not just every time an individual offends us, but every time we think of a particular offense.
For years, every time I thought about the doctor who refused to refer us to early intervention programs for our Erin, fury would rise up within me. I was freshly offended in my heart towards him. It was only after I forgave him in my heart, and continually forgave him every time I thought of that offense, that I was released from the bondage of that grudge.
Some say that forgiveness is predicated on the ability to forget. They can never forget the offense, so they can never forgive the offender. But being able to forgive is not predicated on forgetting. Forgetting is not required, but forgiveness is commanded. We do it by the power that God gives us.
“12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:12-13)
Maybe mercy is the description and forgiving is the action.