What does the Bible say about forgiveness? Is it important to forgive?
The Bible tells us much about forgiveness. Jesus was very forgiving. He forgave tax collectors, robbers, and even the Romans who crucified him. Jesus shows us how we should live our lives. He tells us that we should forgive everyone. When we forgive everyone, we will be happy, "for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matt. 3:2).
One Bible story, in particular, that teaches me the importance of forgiving is Jesus' parable of the "prodigal son" (Luke 15:11-32). The father was incredibly forgiving towards a son who was not very kind or responsible. Bible scholars who recently went to the Middle East learned that when the son asked for his inheritance from his father, he was really wishing that his father were dead. Then, the son spent his portion of inheritance on foolish things. When he ran out of all of his money, he had to work for a farmer who didn't pay or feed him well. When he returned home and saw his father, his father ran out to meet him. The scholars also learned that a respected man would never run. That was not considered as dignified as walking. Denying that custom by running to greet his son and letting his son come back to live with him showed major forgiveness from the father. The father even threw his son a party. We all make mistakes. What purpose does it serve to hold those mistakes against someone?
The story of Jacob and Esau also shows the power of forgiveness. Jacob had stolen Esau's inheritance by tricking their father, Isaac, into believing that he was Esau. Esau got really upset, even though he had already traded Jacob his inheritance for food when he (Esau) was hungry. Jacob had to run away from home so Esau wouldn't kill him. After decades of separation, Jacob felt that it was time to return home. On his way home, Jacob's men scouted ahead and found that Esau still intended to kill Jacob. Jacob prayed. His prayers changed their relationship. They met each other with open arms (Gen. 33). They both had forgiven each other.
In another story, Joseph's forgiveness of his brothers saved their lives. Joseph's brothers had thrown him into a pit, sold him into slavery, ripped his coat of many colors, and told their dad, Jacob, that Joseph had been killed. But God took care of Joseph. He rose to power in Potiphar's house, was thrown into jail, brought out to interpret dreams no one else could decipher, and was given the position of second in command to Pharaoh. Soon after, there was a famine throughout the entire region. Back home, Joseph's family was starving, so they decided to go to Egypt where they heard there was grain. Because Joseph was in charge of everything, he met his brothers, who didn't recognize him. Rather than ignore their request and refuse to give them food, Joseph forgave his brothers. He gave them food and invited them to eat with him even though they had sold him as a slave. He even made it so his whole family could move to Egypt where they didn't have to worry about starving.
All of these stories in the Bible illustrate the power of forgiveness, which is love. In his parable of the creditor who had two debtors, Jesus explains how forgiveness brings love:
There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most? Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged. (Luke 7:41-43)
When I am trying to forgive someone, these stories remind me that forgiving others is not only possible, but it is the very best thing for everyone. They also give me the promise that I will be forgiven for anything I may do.
Michael Dutton, 9th grader
As we look at the stories Michael has mentioned, we can see that love enables each of us to forgive and to be forgiven. The greatest love is God's love.
- The father of the wayward son truly forgave a lot. His son wanted him dead and then wasted all his money. But the father had so much love, that he was able to see the good in his son. The father’s forgiveness allowed the son to leave his foolish ways and change his life. Forgiveness healed the situation and made both the father and the son feel better. His son “was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry” (Luke 15:24).
- Both Jacob and Esau had wronged each other. They both needed to feel forgiven, to forgive, and to love each other. Jacob really struggled to gain a clearer concept of who he was. Jacob “wrestled” with a “man,” the angel (Gen. 32:24), until he felt that his nature was transformed, and he was able to meet his brother and say, “I have seen thy face, as though I had seen the face of God, and thou wast pleased with me” (Gen. 33:10).
- Joseph’s love for his family saved them. We could argue that he had every right to deny his brothers food. But he responded with forgiveness, compassion, and grace instead. He told his brothers: “Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life” (Gen. 45:5).
Let's think about what our forgiveness can do for others. What would happen if, instead of carrying around grudges or spreading guilt, we forgave those who have hurt us? It's also important to forgive ourselves, too, so we can move forward. Let's remember what Jesus implied -- forgiveness and love go hand-in-hand. Let's decide to spread love by forgiving.