“Is there such a thing as being too forgiving?”
This question came in response to my speaking and writing on the topic of forgiveness. I can sense the concern underlying the question – no one wants to be a doormat, walked on by others and their bad behavior. Nor am I interested in encouraging or somehow coercing codependent, enabling behavior that covers for another’s irresponsible, addictive or abusive actions in the name of acts of so-called forgiveness. Denial is not the same as forgiveness.
But the question of measuring forgiveness has Biblical precedent. It’s essentially the question that Peter asks in response to Jesus teaching about the process of forgiveness; “How many times should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”
What I find interesting is that the process that Jesus outlines in Matthew 18 accounts for the possibility that our efforts to forgive and be reconciled will end in failure. Peter asks his question from the perspective of one who assumes that he’ll be successful in giving and receiving forgiveness; his question is: how freely do I share this precious gift of mine without losing it or disgracing or damaging myself?
It’s a real question of real importance if forgiveness is a resource that Peter must provide from himself. How many times can one person do this?
Jesus answers Peter’s question in the form of a story of abundant forgiveness that reveals Peter’s misunderstanding. The forgiveness that Peter is being challenged to offer is not of his own making. It’s a forgiveness that comes to him in abundance from God. It’s a forgiveness that he can’t possibly hope to repay. Divine generosity, what we frequently call “grace,” is of an infinite amount for Peter and for you and me. There is no end to the forgiving that God gives. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection are the living, dying and rising proof of this. When Jesus returns to the disciples who had betrayed and deserted him, his first words are “Peace be with you.”
Is there such a thing as being too forgiving? When it comes to God’s forgiveness for you, the answer is, “No, there isn’t such a thing as being too forgiving.”
Peace be with you,
Nov. 8, 2017
Rev. James A. Wetzstein serves as one of our university pastors at Valpo and takes turns writing weekly reflections.