Familiar words in our prayer life: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”. Are we really serious about asking God to forgive us in the very same way that we forgive others?? That is one of the boldest things we could ever say to a Person we have wronged both purposefully and unintentionally or by sheer negligence in innumerable ways. The disciples were not even asking for a lesson on forgiveness when they heard these words. Their question was about how to pray, probably because they saw the remarkable results Jesus got when He talked to His Father – which was often. But apparently, if we are to expect results from our celestial petitions, among other things we have to live in the kingdom reality of living with a heart free from grudging offense against our fellow flawed companions. That is heavy, and yet the prayer rolls so glibly off of our tongues. I, for one, do NOT necessarily want to be forgiven the way I tend to forgive. I want to be forgiven the way God forgives – thoroughly, lovingly, graciously, without resentment. He knows full well that I will fail again and again and again, but He restores relationship anyway. He does not become distant, suspicious, cool and aloof. He does not continually remind me of my mistakes, moral failures, outright ugliness and self-obsession. He does not avoid me or insist on future perfection to renew a relationship with me, the habitual transgressor that I am.
Of course, we have so many logical, practical and psychologically healthy reasons to limit the scope of our forgiveness. So much of what we call forgiveness is probably not. We like someone enough, and they are affirming enough or likable enough or useful enough that we are willing to overlook their mistakes. Forgiveness is not just for those people. Friends that are special to us have probably done egregious wrongs to others, and so are just as worthy of rejection (unforgiveness) as the people we dislike and are therefore less willing to pardon. Maybe you have not been hurt deeply by your friend, but chances are pretty good that others have. The point is that we are all in the same boat- we all stand equally filthy before the ultimate standard of goodness. The limitations of this passing age and our own hard hearts blind us to what is true and real. Unless, of course, we choose to believe the One Who came to reveal eternal reality and rescue us from the grips of comfortable deception. And unfortunately for our precious little feelings and “rights”, the reality is that we are certain to receive in the same measure that we have been willing to give. Food for thought indeed!
Facing the truth that we are kingdom-called to let go of hurts, wounds, neglect, sins, and offenses of others, the question screams “How do we do that?” Peter thought he was taking the high ground to suggest that he would forgive his brother seven times, but what a shock when Jesus rounded up to 490 times. This would imply there is no limit to our responsibility to forgive. And to illustrate, Jesus follows up with the story of the guy who is forgiven an enormous debt by his boss, then goes out and harasses his friend for a paltry little sum that he was owed. That is how it is going to look for you and I when we stand before the Father to Whom we rattled off the Lord’s prayer so many times. We are going to see, perhaps for the first time, the magnitude of the debt we have wracked up against Him by our treachery to Him and His other children.
So that person who has hurt you – even intentionally- deserves our forgiveness if we claim to be a Jesus follower. Recall the scope of His forgiveness in your own life, and the kingdom principle “Let there be no more resentment, no more anger or temper, no more violent self-assertiveness, no more slander and no more malicious remarks, Be kind to each other, be understanding. Be as ready to forgive others as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you.” (Ep 4:31-32 JBP) God forgave us for Jesus sake. We are called to do the same.
Now who on earth can expect to live like that??? Apparently God expects us to, but certainly we cannot succeed through accessing the reserves of our own morality or personal goodness. Only a child of God, one who has received another source of existence from the Spirit of God by rebirth, can expect to cultivate habitual forgiveness. It is not, however, automatic, as evidenced by the hordes of angry Christian churchers. This kingdom heart and attitude must be embraced, nurtured, exercised and practiced by relying on the grace that God is more than willing to give. That means we must learn how to live out of the new nature that Jesus rose again to share with us – outside of our natural experiences and responses. Such a pursuit anticipates failures and the need to start again. And again! And again! Forgiveness must be cultivated and given relentlessly at huge personal cost. We paid the price when the offense happened. We pay it again when we forgive. Forgiveness is not easy even though it is the foundational precept of spiritual life. But apparently it is important for our future. So do yourself a favor and forgive.