At this very moment, as you read these words, someone you know (perhaps you?) is struggling with pain. We know the stories all too well: the heart-broken parent who buried a child; a spouse who unexpectedly received divorce papers; a friend who betrayed a confidence; or the cell phone user who caused the accident that ended the life of a loved one. These stories of pain, injustice, and the struggle for healing abound. How do we cope with deep wounds too painful to ignore? Choosing to forgive is the option that can set the stage for a life-transforming process. Although the concept of forgiveness can seem unfathomable, how we respond to pain determines our healing and who we will become as a result.
Did you know that emotional healing through forgiveness is your divine destiny? In Matthew 18:22, Jesus introduced to Peter the concept of forgiving not seven times but seventy times seven—a total of (but not limited to) 490 times! In that simple equation, we find a powerful formula for deepening self-understanding and revealing an immense depth of divinely-orchestrated love.
Jesus, in His vast wisdom, revealed the timeless mathematical equation of 70 X 7 equaling 490 as an object lesson to emphasize the significance of forgiveness as a life principle. Offering consistent forgiveness requires a significant shift in our worldview. Choosing forgiveness as a foundational principle transforms the way we process our thoughts and behaviors. It provides an opportunity for embracing a new identity and defuses the potential of being held captive by a painful past.
490-forgiveness uses a symbolic number as a filter to provide the opportunity to restructure a painful story by looking through a lens of understanding and godly love. The most common view of forgiveness includes expecting the transgressor to ask for forgiveness, granting the forgiveness, and ultlmately experiencing the restoration of the relationship. But, what happens if forgiveness is offered but not accepted? Ideally, reconciliation is the most beautiful outcome of forgiveness. Unfortunately, it is not always possible, Forgiveness rarely occurs under ideal circumstances.
When Jesus introduced the concept of 490-forgiveness, He did not offer a cautionary note about waiting until the transgressor demonstrates willingness to reciprocate before offering forgiveness. In that exchange, we see that forgiveness is first an “inside job.” Romans 12:18 underscores this sentiment. “…as far as it depends on you, live peacefully with all men.” Forgiveness depends on you, not the transgressor. The hallmark of 490-forgiveness is the reshaping of one’s thought, understandings, and feelings about the transgressor and the offense.
On October 2, 2006 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, 10 Amish girls ages 6-11 were executed by Charles Carl Roberts. The nation stood in awe at the power of forgiveness when the Amish community responded by immediately offering a public outpouring of mercy to the Roberts’ family. That event will forever stand as an example of the far-reaching power of forgiveness.
Each painful event in life is accompanied by an opportunity for redemption. Beneath the thorny exterior of a transgressor is a fallible person with unspoken needs for belonging and love. Accepting the challenge to offer 490-forgiveness is an invitation for all to come home to the heart of love.
In his book The Forgiving Life, Robert Enright shares that, “Love, properly understood, reaches higher and goes farther in explaining who we are when compared with rationality, free will, and even goodwill.” This was demonstrated on Calvary’s cross when, at the point of death, Jesus used his ebbing life’s energy to petition for the unsolicited forgiveness of His transgressors (Luke 23:34).
There are many definitions of forgiveness. How do you define it? Your definition is vital, as it shapes your willingness to forgive and how you will move forward with the task. Definitions based on retribution, expectancy, or occasional offerings result in incomplete healing experiences. Forgiveness is a complex process requiring time, attention, and a tenacious stretching for connection with God, self, and others.
Learning to Unlearn
490-forgiveness includes a delicate balance in learning and unlearning. The unlearning process of forgiveness involves moving away from unconstructive societal ideas about how to respond to an offense. Proverbs 3:5 reminds us not to lean on our own understanding. Therefore, human concepts such as waiting to forgive when comfortable, waiting for the transgressor to seek forgiveness, or being entitled to hold on to anger ultimately facilitates savoring for wound. This blocks the flow of love that is essential for forgiveness and healing to occur.
490-forgiveness incorporates the grounding principles of balance, order, and connection. It includes four basic connectors: the invitation (the call to entertain the redemptive process), the reshaping (sharing and reshaping the painful story), the core (the discovery and new understanding of self and others), and the management (the acceptance and work of the forgiveness lifestyle).
Moving through these points of connection is not always a fluid, or linear process. The struggle provides crystallizing insights to questions such as “Who am I?” as well as “What is my purpose?” and “Am I strong enough?” As one travels through the areas of connection toward healing, it is not uncommon to vacillate between connectors, and this vacillating (not lingering) is part of the healing process.
What If I Can’t Forget?
If we can’t forget, can we still forgive? We were not created to forget traumatic or painful experiences. Healing through forgiveness occurs in remembering and reshaping the transgressive event, not repressing it. The delicate work of recasting the painful story bring new understanding (Enright & Coyle, 1998). However, recalling a painful event can be a slippery slope. It is not uncommon to experience the temptation to slide into assigning blame, seeking personal justice, or embracing unforgiveness. Entertaining those temptations detours us from connection and healing. Therefore, it is important to remember that forgiveness is about connection, not perfection.
As Christians, we are agreeable to the concept of forgiveness. However, many of us labor to accept and reveal to others the challenges involved in offering forgiveness for repeated offences. Forgiveness is hard work that must be revisited and managed, in order to be maintained. While “70 X7” may initially appear daunting, the symbolic number (490) immediately organizes our thinking around goal orientation.
In a world filled innumerable wounds, how do you cope? Would you consider the 490-forgiving lifestyle? The diving call for partnership sweetly beckons, “come let us reason…” (Isaiah 1:18). The 490 solution is the way home to love and peace. Will you risk the equation?