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Your Questions, Our Answers

One of my Bible versions translates the Matthew 18:21–35 teaching on forgiveness to say we should forgive 77 times, the other says 490 times. Which is correct?

The number in Matthew 18:22 is difficult to translate. It appears to be a direct reference to Genesis 4:24. In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the very same words of Matthew 18:22 are found in Genesis 4:24. In the Genesis verse, the Hebrew words translated into Greek mean 77. That’s why, in contrast to the older translations, more recent translations now render the number as 77.

Regardless of the exact number, we should heed the point made by Jesus: Our forgiving of another for a personal offense must be limitless. This is the true measure of forgiveness. God the King reminds us that we who are in debt beyond our ability to pay must be ready and willing to forgive others.

We all sin, but after asking Jesus for forgiveness for our sins, what if we then turn around and commit that exact sin the next day or a week later and ask for forgiveness again? Does Jesus forgive us every time we ask for forgiveness, even if we commit the same sin over and over?

The great news of the gospel is that Jesus died to save and redeem us, once and for all (Rom. 6:10; 1 Peter 3:18)! He died “for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt. 26:28; see also Luke 1:77; Col. 1:14). The same grace that provides salvation remains in force to forgive us and sanctify us when we sin in this world as believers, for sin cannot outpace God’s grace toward us: “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more . . . so also grace might reign” (Rom. 5:20–21).

Yet, the repetition of sin is much more of a reality in our lives than we think. Because we tend to look at our more visible sins, we can miss our continued lack of victory over anxiety, wrath, pride, gossip, greed, discontent, grumbling, lack of self-control, and the like. We need to go to the Lord repeatedly to confess our failure to overcome these sins. We also need to invite mature believers to join us in our personal efforts to defeat these sins.

Is God ever ashamed of my depression?

To speak of the Lord Jesus being “ashamed” of you is to suggest that there might be something you are doing that is displeasing or embarrassing to God, or that you are not living up to God’s standard by intentional choice. Clinically speaking, depression comes about not so much by our choices, but by factors such as our genetics. Depression sometimes runs in families. Biochemistry, personality, and environmental factors also may contribute to depression. These are all things we do not choose.

The Bible gives us an example of a depressed individual. The writer of Psalm 88 begins the psalm confessing, “Day and night I cry out to you” (v. 1), and he ends the psalm saying, “Darkness is my closest friend” (v. 18). Throughout the psalm, he declares that he is “overwhelmed with troubles” (v. 3), “without strength” (v. 4), his “eyes are dim with grief” (v. 9), and he has “terrors” and “despair” (v. 15). Yet we can’t say that God disapproves of the state of the psalmist. Instead, the Lord had the words composed into a song and placed into the book of Psalms by the collaborative efforts of the Sons of Korah and Heman the Ezrahite, songwriters and leaders of music in ancient Israel (1 Chron. 25:1–6; Pss. 42, 44–49, 84–85).

When Israel sang this psalm in worship, they expressed the feelings of depression. The Lord brought these words for us as part of the inspired Word of God—as part of His speaking to us. These words, though difficult, are profitable for Christian living (2 Tim. 3:16–17). The presence of this psalm in the canon of Scripture reveals that (1) God’s people have struggled with depression, (2) they have taken their depressed emotions to the Lord in prayer for help, hope, and mercy, (3) the Lord received their depressed cries as an expression of loving God with their heart, soul, mind, and strength. No, God is not ashamed of your depression. He loves you fully and eternally even while you, like the psalmist, are yet in the midst of depression.

The only embarrassment for a depressed soul might be to miss obtaining help, when the Lord has made available many resources. If you are depressed, you should talk about your depression to a member of your church’s pastoral staff and seek the counsel of a licensed therapist. The pastoral staff member will walk with you through spiritual matters. The professional therapist, gifted by the Lord with knowledge of the sciences of the brain and emotions, will discern factors contributing to your depressed feelings and guide you with the wisdom needed to manage them. Both pastoral care and mental health experts are God’s grace toward those in need of help.

BY Dr. Eric C. Redmond

Dr. Eric C. Redmond serves as a professor of Bible at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago and as associate pastor of adult ministries at Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park, Ill. He is married to Pam and they have five children. He is the author of Say It!  Celebrating Expository Preaching in the African American Tradition (Moody Publishers), Where Are All the Brothers? Straight Answers to Men's’ Questions about the Church (Crossway), a commentary on Jonah in the Christ-Centered Exposition Series (B&H Publishers), and a study guide on Ephesians in the Knowing the Bible series (Crossway).

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