Those words from the mouth of a 5-year-old to the brother who took their toy and those words from a mother to the man who killed her daughter are two very different phrases with two very different meanings.
We teach kids that when someone says, “I’m sorry,” we are to respond, “I forgive you,” no matter what they have done.
But forgiving someone for taking away a toy is very different from forgiving someone for taking a life, however unintentional it may have been.
This is the story behind Matthew West’s song, Forgiveness:
A mother whose daughter was hit and killed by a 24-year-old drunk driver.
A 22-year prison sentence for the driver.
A tearful apology in the courts from the driver, saying that he would give his own life to reverse what had happened.
And years later, the mother embracing the driver and saying, “I forgive you.”
When he could not even forgive himself for what he had done, this mother and many of her relatives saying, “I forgive you,” set him free. It brought him to salvation.
This mother and other relatives went to bat at the courts for the driver, Eric, and got his prison sentence reduced by half so that he could start a new life. He was released in November of 2012.
They have spoken at many functions together. She calls him a part of her family. Forgiven.
Would you do the same as this mother? Could you forgive the man who killed your daughter, however unintentional it may have been? Could you look him in the eye and tell him that you do not hold it against him, that he killed your daughter? Could you invite him to Thanksgiving dinner and call him a part of your family?
This forgiveness cannot be achieved by human strength alone. This forgiveness, this peace, this healing, can flow only from Christ.
Consider these words from Colossians chapter 3:
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved,
clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility,
gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and
forgive one another if any of you has a grievance
against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
And over all these virtues put on love, which binds
them all together in perfect unity. (emphasis mine)
Forgive as the Lord forgave you… He has forgiven us for our unbelief. Our stupidity, our stubbornness to try to do it all ourselves. Our sinful desires and actions, every day of our lives. He has forgiven us for making idols out of other gods. For nailing Him to the cross, denying Him, and for running scared. For crying, “Crucify Him!” with the rest of the crowd.
Forgive when it is impossible. Forgive when you know they will screw it up again. Forgive when they don’t deserve it. Forgive because you have been forgiven. Pray for help, because you can’t do it alone. Forgiveness.
Show me how to love the unlovable
Show me how to reach the unreachable
Help me now to do the impossible
– Matthew West