The power of divine forgiveness

Built on a Rock

I'm sure you've heard the old saying, “To err is human, to forgive, divine.” I wonder if you know who said it?

Some attribute this famous line to Shakespeare while others think it can be found somewhere in the Bible.

The man who actually coined this phrase was the poet Alexander Pope. It's just one line out of 750 others in his first major poem, “An Essay on Criticism,” which he penned when he was only 23.

Pope wrote this poem for aspiring authors, and this particular section was to remind them that everyone makes mistakes and they should not be so critical of those who criticize them.

But for Christians, I think it’s possible for us to take more away from the line, “To err is human, to forgive, divine.” It recalls our weak and sinful natures and reminds us that true forgiveness is not born out of the human will but only from the divine will of God. 

In Matthew 18, we find that Peter has come to Jesus with a question. He asks, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me and I forgive him?”

Forgiveness was a common topic for Jesus. Its importance could not be understated. Jesus had taught the disciples what to do if someone sinned against them, but what about the one who wants forgiveness? How many times must we forgive the one who sins against us?

The question itself gives insight into the human will. It's as if Peter and the other disciples want to know the bare minimum required of them to be good Christians.

Peter probably thought it was pretty generous to suggest forgiving one’s erring brother or sister seven times! After all, Jewish custom held that three times was plenty.

But even with Peter’s good intentions, he’s still trying to put a limit on God's grace. He's still trying to figure out at which point a person no longer deserves forgiveness.

What he fails to recognize is that no one deserves God's forgiveness, and yet we receive it anyway.

Jesus then tells a parable which illustrates the underlying absurdity of Peter's question. In the parable, a king calls a servant to pay his debt. He is told that he owes 10,000 talents – an incredible amount of money. The servant begs the king, “Have patience with me and I will pay you everything!” He underestimates what he owes and foolishly thinks that he can repay it.

Jesus says, “And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.”

In just one little line we see the wonderful mercy of this king, and by correlation the limitless grace of our God.

Our ability to forgive others is born out of the great mercy God has shown us. It is a powerful gift with the ability to settle disputes, heal broken hearts, and mend torn relationships. Yes, it is true, “To err is human, to forgive, divine,” but through God’s grace we are called to forgive others as God has forgiven us.

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