Forgiven to the Measure I Forgive?
The Lord’s Prayer always makes me squirm. I rationalize I must not understand what Jesus really meant. Asking God to forgive me as I forgive others? I hope God’s not listening right then because I’m a lousy forgiver. Not that I carry around a lot of anger or bitterness, but I’m not very tolerant of other’s shortcomings and have little patience for being around those who irk me.
(I’m sure I have shortcomings and occasionally irk God. So if the theory holds, God’s acting as if he’s busy and doesn’t see me, is hiding behind a magazine hoping I don’t see him or is not showing up somewhere because he knows I’ll be there.)
Jesus often hammers away on the importance of forgiveness. If while I’m praying I remember a conflict I have with someone, I’m to go take care of it right then so God can forgive me (Mark 11:25). I’m to forgive an offender seven times a day (Luke 17:4) and in another verse 490 times (Matthew 18:21-22). That instruction is followed by the parable of a debt-forgiven slave who after beating a lesser repayment out of a fellow slave has his debt reinstated and is turned over to torturers (Matthew 18:23-35). It closes with an assurance God will deal with me in that way as well unless I wholeheartedly forgive others.
I don’t know about you, but I’m sunk. I don’t have the gracious capacity to let things go as Jesus describes. Resentments play over and over in my head like a stuck phonograph needle (I’m dating myself!). Angry feelings from the past can be unexpectedly triggered by something that happened at work today. I know from experience time doesn’t always heal wounds.
While most of my grudges seem petty by comparison, I wrestle with how others who have had crimes committed against them can ever forgive their perpetrators to a degree God will then forgive them. How is that possible? Yet Jesus is clear that if we don’t forgive others, God will not forgive us of our sins (Matthew 6:14-15). I can’t live up to that.
Luckily for me Paul comes onto the scene with the instruction for us to be kind, tender hearted and forgiving of one another, as Christ has forgiven us
(Ephesians 4:32 and Colossians 3:13). Paul reverses the order! I forgive because I have been forgiven. Instead of being motivated by fear of punishment, I gratefully forgive because I haven’t earned the forgiveness already extended to me. What’s free to me I can freely pass along to others.
While I definitely like the sound of Paul’s teachings better, the nagging worry of what Jesus meant tugs at me. Jesus’ ministry laid the foundation for the saving work he would do on the cross. Grace wasn’t available yet. Jesus hadn’t died for sin. Many of his teachings set forth impossible standards to point out people’s need for a Savior. No matter how many laws they kept (Jews had expanded the original 10 to 613!) they would never achieve God’s standard of perfection.
The magnitude of my sin (debt) against God is huge, yet he forgives it.
That’s the good news of the cross. His forgiveness is unimaginable and unlimited – more than I can grasp. Paul’s post-crucifixion instruction is to forgive others out of my gratitude, not my guilt. One must understand the timeframe to see that Jesus and Paul were not contradicting one another.
Whew! Being forgiven doesn’t hinge on me being able to perfectly forgive everyone else. What a relief! I still want to be at peace with others and not carry grudges. If I mess up (again) today or trip over an old emotional hurt, I’m reminded of how endless God’s forgiveness is and that I still need him. Without him, I’m a hopeless failure. I’m thankful my salvation doesn’t depend on me. Neither does yours. Amen!
– Sue Berger
Note: Permission is granted to share my material as long as my by-line, email address & copyright date remain attached.
© 2006 One Pilgrim's Musings