As we forgive
by Sharon Robertson, Lt. Colonel –
Jesus was a troublemaker. Still is. Every time I read the Sermon on the Mount I find myself both challenged and troubled, and nowhere do his words trouble me more than when he teaches his disciples about forgiveness. I like the part about God forgiving me—that’s wonderful, comforting, reassuring. What bothers me is when he says that there is a strong relationship between the forgiveness he offers me, and the quality of forgiveness I offer those who have wronged or offended me.
He taught us to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Then he added the rationale: “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15 NIV). That doesn’t worry you?
The forgiveness, God-style, has to do with more than accepting a bad situation, or even being able to maintain a reasonably civil relationship with the offender. God’s forgiveness is an “as far as the east is from the west” forgiveness—a forgiveness that is total, unremitting. East and west never meet; our forgiven trespasses are expunged from the record. God will never consider bringing them up against us, not today, not ever!
God’s forgiveness is not born out of any need to put his knowledge of our sins against him out of his mind, and get on with living his life in spite of us; rather it is born out of his loving concern for us, his desire to see healing in our lives, and restoration of fellowship.
His loving forgiveness springs not from his neediness, but from ours. That is why his forgiveness must of necessity be related to our ability to forgive others! If I cannot truly forgive and forget the wrongs, real or imagined, that someone has committed against me, I am the loser…and I become in turn an offender. I become a faulty channel of God’s love. I deny God the right to love through me, because I am harboring sin in my life. I am not thinking of what God wants. I am not concerned about what the needs of the object of my resentment. I am not about to put my own feelings aside and focus on what is best for the despised other. How can I expect God to forgive me, when I so am so incapable of forgiving?
Sounds hopeless, doesn’t it? Until I remember the critical issue: God actually has forgiven me for sins of the past. They are—they really are—gone for all eternity. It is the unacknowledged and unconfessed sin of today that God holds against me. He cannot forgive the sin that I refuse to recognize, that I cherish and continually nourish in my heart. The grudge that festers within, the raging infection that incites unabated resentment and venomous intent, is making me spiritually sick, and I know it! At some deep corner within, I know the damage my own relentless bitterness is doing to me, to others, and (when I finally think of it) to my relationship with God.
Fact: God has forgiven the past sins of which I have repented. Fact: God knows that I am a sinner—saved only through his loving kindness. Fact: God recognizes my unforgiving spirit as sin, a sin to which I cling. Fact: Until I recognize as sin the sin in my own life, repent of it, and seek his forgiveness and healing, I am dishonoring him whom I would choose to honor above all. Fact: God is able to work a miracle in my life; God is able to forgive, to heal the spiritual disease that keeps me from understanding the damage done by cherishing a grudge. Through the power of surrender to God, I can learn to put into practice the power to forgive, as God so mercifully forgives me.