Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often shall 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 times seven.” – Mt. 18:21-22 (RSV)
We’ve got two things going on in this brief passage that I want to look at.
First of all there is the idea of our brother continually sinning against us. There are grave sins – like physical violence, theft, marital infidelity – and I don’t think the Lord is talking about these. I think He’s addressing the ordinary offenses and grievances that people commit against one another, that rub up against one’s ego and pride.
There’s an example – we all have seen this, I expect – of the woman whose husband is sometimes thoughtless or selfish or perhaps a bit coarse or impatient… and she tells all her friends that she just can’t stand any more of it. Sometimes she uses these things as an excuse to run home to Mama.
Somewhere this woman has been told – erroneously – that she has these “rights” not to have her feelings hurt, to have all her needs met by one person.
She needs to learn to forgive these disappointments no matter how often they come. Seventy times seven, if need be. Fact is, we don’t have any inalienable rights to have our precious feelings protected from all hurts – or else we also must face up to the fact that we are prohibited from hurting others’.
On the other hand (and this is the second point) – I don’t think the Lord requires of us that we subject ourselves to dangerous behaviors again and again and again. In the point of history when He was on the earth, women had no choices – but we do. We have a lot of choices. And sometimes for the sake – not only of our own safety but also of our abuser’s immortal soul! – we must put our foot down and say “No more!” – and do whatever is necessary to put an end to the abuse –
whether that abuse is physical abuse, or marital infidelity (which includes the infidelity of pornography), or alcohol or drug addiction that renders the addict wholly irresponsible and hurtful, or any other gravely immoral behavior.
In such cases, a single violation of trust can be so severe that it requires multiple forgiveness – each one as if it were the first – for the whole of one’s life. Seventy times seven for one terrible offense.
We can think we have an issue taken care of – but something will cause it to return to us as fresh and as bitter as if it had just been committed, or discovered. Perhaps a dream, perhaps a comment from someone else – sometimes things just come to our minds when we don’t expect them – a temptation to trip us up from our Enemy?
And this is when we have to dig deep and forgive all over again, sometimes working out our anger and hurt as if it were a brand new violation.
It’s not easy – it sure as heck ain’t pleasant. But it’s necessary. And it’s do-able.