Forgiveness failure – an account

By Dave Henning / March 2, 2023

“[The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant] is an account of forgiveness failure because that is the usual human story.  The movement from divine forgiveness to human forgiveness is constantly frustrated by human sin. . . .  Are you a professing Christian . . . known by your friends and neighbors for being unusually loving, generous, gracious, and forgiving? . . .  If we have truly grasped and received his salvation, it should change us as it did not change [the unforgiving servant].”- Timothy Keller (emphasis author’s)

Timothy Keller moves on in Chapter 1 of Forgive with a core definition of forgiveness.

 1.  Name the trespass truthfully.  In the parable, the king named the actual debt the servant owed.  Hence, forgiveness starts with truth telling.  Instead of a cover-up or excuses or half-truths.

 2.  Identify with the perpetrator as a fellow sinner.  You deliberately choose the internal work of understanding the perpetrator’s situation and vulnerability.  Certainly, not a natural thing to do.  So, think of the offender not just as a villain, but as a human being who carries his/her own set of fears and griefs.

3.  Release the wrongdoer from liability.  As a result, you absorb the loss.  Therefore, Pastor Keller counsels:

“Forgiveness means that, when you want to make them suffer, instead you refuse to do it.  And this refusal is hard. . . .  If instead, bit by bit by bit, you grant forgiveness in this way, eventually you’ll begin to feel forgiveness.”

4.  Aim for reconciliation.  In conclusion, Pastor Keller asserts, forgiveness and justice must go hand in hand.  Because, if you opt against forgiving the person, your justice seeking likely veers into the territory of revenge.  However, such reconciliation depends on the response of the one to whom you extended forgiveness.

In the parable, the relationship between the king and the servant breaks down again.  For the servant failed to respond to the king’s forgiveness with genuine repentance.  So, Pastor Keller asserts, you must include all four actions to engage in real forgiveness – from the heart.

Today’s question: When have you experienced forgiveness failure?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “A servant acting like a king”

About the author

Dave Henning

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