Understanding Seventy times Seven

From Kindergarten through part of the fifth grade I attended private school. I pretty much hated private school; I had few friends and I was picked on but the one thing I did like was learning about the Bible. I loved the bible stories and religion lessons. Sadly not much of what I learned stayed with me as I grew up, moved around and moved into the public school system.

Except for the lesson on religion. Perhaps I paid particular attention to it because I knew one day I’d need it (I was the oldest and always apologizing for something), or maybe because it was that I didn’t quite understand how we, or I even, could and should forgive people indefinitely or maybe (and this seems to be probably closer to the truth in my nine or ten year old mind), why forgiveness was associated with the number seven – I wasn’t good at math and if I had to forgive someone and equate it to a math problem, I was going to be in big trouble!

Regardless, even after all of these years the lesson on forgiveness has stuck with me.

Last week, I was suddenly and painfully reminded of the parable of the unmerciful servant and Luke 17:4. I had messed up and wronged someone close to me. I felt awful; it had been a horrendous week both on the work and home front and my head was concentrating on my oldest at the time and not much else.  I apologized and explained only to be rebuked. I don’t think it would be a big deal… No that’s a lie; it feels like a big deal to me because many times over the same person has apologized to me for similar instances and time and time again I have said that it was okay and (in modern speak I guess you could say), forgave them – knowing that it wouldn’t be the last time.

After I was rebuked and accused of making excuses which didn’t have to be accepted (and wouldn’t be I was told) I was a mess. I felt sick that I had messed up. There wasn’t really a way for me to make things right (right then), but I wanted to. I wasn’t expecting the other person to be happy go-lucky about what I had done but I also didn’t expect to be told that they don’t have to accept my excuse.

I’m not sure what made me think of that bible lesson on forgiveness from my private school days but by Friday night it really was all I could think about. Why couldn’t my apology be accepted? I had accepted so many for the same thing over the years. What was so different about my apology than theirs? What made me less than them?

Understanding Seventy times Seven

Admittedly, I had to both search the internet and my bible at home to read through the parable because it was all jumbled in my head and the only thing I could remember was the number seven and seventy times seven. The more I read through my childhood bible, the more clear the parable and the later conversation Jesus had with his disciples before he died on the cross:

“If he sins against you seven times in the day and turns to you seven times, and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” Luke 17:4


I think we’re on to something here though it didn’t cure how I felt about being rejected.

It was like I was back in that little classroom looking up at the paintings on the wall of Jesus looking up to Heaven in the garden and smiling down on the little children that were brought to him. Everything was clear once again.

Forgiveness really is as simple as the parable of the unmerciful servant (to me anyway); If you, yourself have ever apologized (no matter how big or small the grievance) and then was forgiven, shouldn’t you then forgive another, no matter how big or small?

And shouldn’t it be limitless?

Perhaps the school age Nikki is super excited because forgiveness doesn’t mean I have to stop forgiving people at 490 times and it’s not a math problem after all… which is a relief because I haven’t been keeping track of how many times I’ve forgiven people in my life.

Again, I say Hmm… 

I can’t make anyone forgive me or accept an apology anymore than I can make the sun come up in the morning. My heart still feels broken and not in a grown up way but in the school age me kind of way. I understand the lesson, and I practice it (even when forgiveness is hard, so very, very hard) so why don’t I deserve the same?

In reality, we will say “I’m sorry” eleventy billion times multiplied by infinity and we should be able to accept someone else’s desire to be forgiven just as many times.

I have come to the conclusion to make peace with the situation, that’s all I can do as a person. I know in my heart that the next time they come to me with an apology that I will forgive. And forgive. And forgive as I have done before.

This is what is asked of us because it is what God does for us unremittingly.

If we can’t grant forgiveness, then we should all be perfect so that we never have to ask for it ourselves.

{image via Jesper Noer}

About Nichole Smith

Nichole Smith has written 770 post in this blog.

Founder of Chaos in the Country and (original) The Guilty Parent blog, Nichole is a professional writer, blogger, social media strategist, and collector of yarn, books, and pretty paper.

Heirloom Baby Knits


  1. Nichole,

    I’m really glad that I came upon your blog post today. I, too, have struggled with this very same thing in the bible. I haven’t kept track either, but it has always worried me about how many times I’ve offended and asked for forgiveness … and is my time really going to be up this time in the receiving forgiveness department. The thing is, I don’t do things on purpose … and when someone is offended or hurt by me, I am greatly affected. I try my best to make things right immediately. I ask for forgiveness and try to right the wrong. I believe you are this way, too, in what I’ve read from you. We don’t set out to hurt people at all. We are good hearted people. The thing is, we’re all imperfect beings so there are going to be times when we do hurt others just as they will hurt us. When you love and care for someone, it happens. We’re all wounded souls with scarred hearts walking around that deserve forgiveness. I believe that if a person is honesty remorseful for what they’ve done and moves swiftly to ask for forgiveness and make amends, forgiveness should be granted as we’d forgive others and ask God directs us to do in His word. I believe, too, though, that the person has to truly be sorry … if they are saying just those words but there’s no action to right the wrong or prevent the offense from ever happening again, it leaves me wondering if they truly are sorry for the actions/words/deeds that hurt my heart and cut to the very core of my being.

    Thank you for this thought provoking post!

    Shirley ~Light Love Hope
    Shirley ~Light Love Hope recently posted…Communication Is KeyMy Profile

    • Yes. I agree with you completely. The apology has to come from sincerity and I too don’t set out to hurt anyone. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on forgiveness.

  2. It is so hard to forgive but when we do we feel better. The other person is not suffering, we are.
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  3. What really jumped at me was “I was the oldest and always apologizing for SOMETHING.” And I though, wow, is that how my oldest daughter feels? Perhaps I am too hard on her because she is the oldest.

    It always hurts when someone doesn’t accept your apology. But maybe it is best that way. Because it means they have hurt somewhere that is beyond you–you are human and trying–and it wasn’t enough for them. THat is not your fault, but it still hurts.

    Forgiveness is difficult, but so important to healing. Thanks for a great, thoughtful post.
    Christina recently posted…Seventh Generation Free and Clear Diapers ReviewMy Profile

    • That’s possible but you know, as an oldest – we take so much to heart no matter what and you could be the most lax parent and your oldest might still feel a duty to carry things for her siblings. I know I did.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts, I agree it is possible that by not being able to accept my apology what is wrong is beyond me to fix or even understand. <3

  4. This is my favorite post you’ve ever written….including the ones about me. 😉 Love you so much!
    Amanda recently posted…Hurry up and wait…meeting with the surgeonMy Profile

  5. The hardest part about “do unto others as you’d have them do unto you” is the question, “What if they don’t do the same?”

    The simple answer is, it’s not about them, it’s about you. You can’t make someone change their habits or their attitude. You can only change yours.

    Forgive freely and apologize gracefully, that’s all we can do, what THEY decide to do in return can only hurt them in the long run
    Peter P recently posted…A Quick Guide to SEOMy Profile

    • “what THEY decide to do in return can only hurt them in the long run”

      Yes and that’s the hardest part for me to grasp I think because I don’t want them to be hurt, even when I’ve done all I can and can’t control their actions (I am a bit of a control freak). Thank you Peter!

  6. Charlene says:

    I’m not sure I can add too many *new* words to the replies already here. But I can speak from a place of having known you over 25 years (yes, we are THAT old) and being on both sides of that apology with you.

    Ultimately, it comes down to what you can DO. You can’t change the way you FEEL. And it’s perfectly fine to feel however you want. But you can choose your actions, your viewpoints, and your priorities.

    You can choose to forgive every time or eventually come to a limit. Both are correct choices, whichever you want for you is the right one.

    You can also remember to view it as the other person’s actions of forgiveness or not are THEIR story. It’s about their emotions, their reality, their decisions and whatever is going on in their life at the time. Their lack of forgiveness may not even be about you at the heart of the matter. I mean haven’t we all lashed out at a friend, spouse or kid because of something at work? We take out a stress on the wrong party all the time, it’s human nature.

    And while you took this particular instance and really thought on it a long time, at the end, you used that time to reflect on YOU, realize some things, post this to share with us, and maybe you will make some kind of positive change for yourself. So, no matter what the other person ultimately does about your apology, you can turn this into something good for you. When it’s viewed like that, it is a life lesson. It only has a negative impact on your life if you want it to.

    And no matter what that other person does, I agree with your stance. Most people in my life deserve to be forgiven eleventy billion times. And you are high on that list in my life.

    I love you! :)

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