Though I have not been able to find definitive evidence that she did so, I have seen this statement attributed to Hillary Rodham Clinton in a number of places: “In the bible it says you have to forgive seventy times seven. I want you all to know, I’m keeping a chart.” And while I have not found that definitive evidence, it does strike me, if you don’t mind me saying so, as something Clinton would say.
If she did say it, she was referring, of course, to Matthew 18, where Peter asked Jesus how many times he needed to forgive someone who sinned against him. Verse 21 says Peter asked, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Peter thought he was being quite magnanimous, of course, and, if understood in context, he was. The Pharisees, after all, taught that one need only forgive three times. So Peter doubled it and, for good measure, added one more. Knowing Peter as we do, we can easily imagine him asking the question with an air of confidence, thinking that he would be commended for his generosity. Jesus, however, had something else in mind. “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven,” Jesus told him.
Seventy times seven is a lot of forgiveness. Who could keep track of forgiving someone 490 times? That, of course, was Jesus’ point. He was teaching Peter that there is not to be an end to forgiveness. Even if you go with one of the translations that presents Matthew 18:22 as “seventy-seven times” the point is that we are to keep on forgiving. We are not to keep a list. If someone kept track of forgiveness, whether seventy-seven times or 490 times, the implication of that would be that once that magic number had been reached, all bets were off, and revenge was coming. That, of course, was what Hillary Clinton was implying in the quote above. She was suggesting that there would come an end to her forgiveness, and when that point was reached, watch out!
God, however, never stops forgiving us. If he did, I would have long ago exhausted by 490 chances, as would everyone else on the face of the earth. Jesus went on, after answering Peter, to deliver the parable of the master who forgave a servant an insurmountable debt that he could never have paid on his own. That is the forgiveness that God offers. There is only one unpardonable, or unforgivable, sin, and that is refusing to accept that Christ died on the cross as the only possible perfect sacrifice that would satisfy a holy God. Beyond that, there is nothing you can do, I can do, or anyone else can do, that God will not forgive.
As incredibly comforting as that should be, the inverse is just as incredible. Just a few chapters earlier, Jesus said that if we do not forgive others their sins, God will not forgive our sins. Followers of Christ are called to demonstrate God-like forgiveness when others offend or wrong them. We need not keep a list, because it isn’t a math problem anyway, it is a heart condition. And the heart that is surrendered to Christ and yielded to the Holy Spirit will forgive the offending brother–every time.