No Keeping Score with Forgiveness

July 07, 2009

Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.

As of the original writing of this post, if Michael Phelps were a nation unto himself, he would have ranked third in the number of gold medals won at that point in the Beijing Olympics. That’s impressive. Watching him and his 4 x 200 relay team members shatter a world record by almost 5 full seconds was impressive. Watching the Chinese gymnastics teams (both men and women) was also impressive. I do love the Olympic games.

One of the things I noticed about myself as I watched is how many new numbers I learned. Before last Summer’s Olympics in Beijing, I never knew what a world class split time was for 100 meters freestyle. Before then, I never knew how to calculate team averages in gymnastic rotations in the team competition. But I found my brain awash in these calculations night after night as I watched with anticipation. For a guy who went to law school so I wouldn’t have to learn any more math, I got wrapped up in the math of competition quickly…because the numbers are important in Olympic competition. It is how we remember athletes’ performances. It is how we keep score. And let’s be honest here, keeping score is important to us.

But in matters of grace and forgiveness, numbers are apparently not important to God. So I believe Peter was a bit befuddled by Jesus’ response to his question about forgiveness in Matthew 18. And I believe we are right there with Peter. Our chests swell with pride over how forgiving we have just been with a brother…for the [fill in the blank with your favorite number]-th time. We are proud because we are still keeping score. Keeping score is important to us. Not so much because we ever intend to do anything with it…that, after all, would be wrong. No, the score is important to me just so that I can feel good about myself. It’s a way of measuring my sacrifice, my worthiness, my self-perceived value to the kingdom of God. It’s not so much that I want to flaunt it (o.k., maybe I do want to flaunt it a little, but I won’t because that would appear vain), I just want to hold onto the number for my own private benefit.

And so, we are taken aback by Jesus’ response to Peter (and to us): “You’re not gonna want to try and keep count of this, because you’re gonna need to be doing this constantly, all day, every day, as often as it takes.” (My paraphrase). We are taught that we are to forgive as God forgives (Ephesians 4:32), and God isn’t keeping count. The only quantity that matters in questions about God’s grace is the quantity “enough”. God’s grace is enough. No matter the sin, no matter the person and no matter the circumstances, God’s grace covers it. Therefore, keeping count (i.e., keeping a track record) becomes unnecessary, in fact, distracting. It defeats the whole notion of forgiveness, which is to wipe away all debt so that nothing more is owed. It is starting from zero (again).

In matters of forgiveness, God isn’t keeping score and neither must we. In fact, if you’re keeping score, you probably haven’t forgiven. Keeping score is for Olympic athletes and gold medals…not for Christians and forgiveness.

© Blake Coffee

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