The only way to begin answering this question is to begin by considering God’s forgiveness. We have no greater example of forgiveness to consider than His. Jesus spoke of it in response to a similar question asked by one of his disciples. The account is found Matthew’s gospel, 18:21-35:
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.”
Jesus then tells the story of a man who was forgiven an enormous debt, but who afterwards, was unwilling to forgive a debt that was far less. In the parable, the king who had forgiven the man the large debt, responded:
‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should you not have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’
If we have experienced the forgiveness of God through Jesus Christ, even though our sin was against our infinitely Holy Creator, how then could we withhold forgiveness from someone whose transgression against us is always less than our transgression against God? Tasting the sweet, undeserved, tender mercies of God can alone soften our hearts to extend forgiveness to those who have hurt us, even though the hurts may be unimaginably deep. A willingness to do so is an indication that someone truly has been created new in Christ, who himself taught us to pray:
Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
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