“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Most of us would readily acknowledge that we need the forgiveness of the Lord. I know that the older I get, I can see the scales of justice in my life tip heavily towards all of the sin I have accumulated. So it is necessary for us to turn to God to seek forgiveness. This is why Christ came into the world and died on the cross. Jesus said at the Last Supper when He took the chalice: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins “(Matt 26:28). Jesus wants to forgive us.
But when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we not only ask Jesus for forgiveness. We give Him permission to limit His forgiveness.
All of us want to be forgiven unconditionally. When we screw up, we want a complete reconciliation to occur and let bygones be bygones. We would burn with shame should someone bring up the past transgression. We would like to see disappear from everyone’s view in the rear-view mirror of life. We want our relationship with God to be completely restored as if the sin never happened. And that is what Christ offers to us by His sacrifice. He holds nothing back.
But in the Lord’s Prayer, we tell God to forgive us only as much as we forgive the people who hurt us.
In fact, Jesus tells the disciples after teaching them the Our Father, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. “ (Matt 6:14-15) So when we pray the Lord’s prayer we tell God to forgive us only as much as we forgive those who have done us wrong. In other words, we should be forgiven only as much as the person in our life we have least forgiven.
We must become people of forgiveness. This is not an option. And this is not easy, especially when we are confronted with serious harms to our person. It sometimes isn’t easy with small slights and offenses. We can nurse grudges for years over the smallest breaches of etiquette. Those things can stick with us for years. I still remember the name of the boy in kindergarten who stole my place on the carpet (it was Norman, by the way).
But despite all of these very human failings, we must overcome them by God’s grace. Otherwise, we do not open ourselves the forgiveness He brings.
There are many great books about the profound power of forgiveness written by men and women holier than me. But allow me to make a few points on the matter.
1. Forgiveness is not a feeling. This can be confusing for some of us, because when we think of the wrongs done to us, we are hit immediately with a wave of emotions like anger, sadness, fear, etc. When we nurse grudges, we stoke the fires of those passions. But forgiveness is not the simple extinguishing of those fires. Forgives does not belong to the emotions but to the will. We are often told to forgive and forget. The problem is that we choose to forgive but cannot help remembering the wrong. This is where the will must be exercised not just once, but each time the emotional pain hits. When I was in high school I was horribly bullied my freshmen year. I long ago made the decision to forgive the ones who tormented me. But whenever I remember how I was treated, it hits me like a flush of shame and rage. This does not mean that I have not already forgiven them. What it means is that in that moment I must re-commit myself to forgiving them, lest I fall into the sin of wrath. Forgiveness is like the marriage vow: it isn’t something you make only once, but something you recommit yourself to your entire life
2. We must not wait to forgive. It easier to forgive an injury when the person who hurt you appears before you contrite. But what happens if they are not? What if they are completely oblivious or uncaring of the pain they cause you? It can be a temptation to wait to forgive someone until they ask for it. This must not be so. The reason is because that is not what Jesus did. Paul says in Romans 5:6-8 “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Christ did not wait until we were forgivable before He forgave us. But He forgave us even while we were unforgiveable. On the cross, He begged the Father to forgive His unrepentant murderers. We must be ready to forgive the people who hurt us even before they ask for forgiveness. I remember once a student had graffitied my car. His father came to me, tears in his eyes at the dishonor of his son’s actions, and said to me, “Forgive him as Jesus would.” This student was not sorry for what he had done. But I took his hand and said, “I forgive you 100%, without reservation, holding nothing back.” Even if he did not receive the forgiveness by repentance, it does not matter to me because….
3. Forgiveness is freedom for the forgiver. When someone wrongs us they do more than give the initial wrong. If we nurse the anger, then they have power over us. They begin to live rent-free in our heads. We dedicate time to thinking about them and the injuries they cause. And since time is life, we give them a part of our lives. And nursing the grudge does nothing to increase joy or peace. Sure there is a salty pleasure in imagining that person’s retribution, but this is ultimately unsatisfying. But if we forgive, then we can lay all of that down. I’ve quoted in other articles Shakespeare from The Merchant of Venice, ““The quality of mercy is not strained; It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blest; It blesseth him that gives and him that takes…” (Merchant of Venice, Act IV Scene I) I love this quote because it reminds us that forgiving others isn’t for the external reward of receiving God’s forgiveness. It also comes with the internal reward of peace. That burning fire of rage and pain can finally die out.
Now, all of this is of course easier said than done. And none of it can be done with without the help of Jesus. But let us in this Year of Mercy resolve to forgive anyone and everyone who has ever injured us.
And let us do this because we remember that Jesus has already added up our offenses and wiped them away with this arithmetic:
+ 1 Cross
= 4 Given
Copyright 2016, W.L.Grayson