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A Lesson on Forgiveness

December 16, 2013

And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

Anyone with even a passing acquaintance with Christianity has probably heard these words, or possibly with debts/debtors instead (Matthew 6:12).  It is part of the Model Prayer, where Jesus showed his disciples how to pray.  It links our being forgiven by God to our forgiveness of others.  But as Christians, we must repent in order to be forgiven.  That’s how it goes:  I’m wrong. I’m sorry. I’ll try not to do it again.  How am I supposed to forgive someone who believes she’s right?

I’ve been struggling with this for a while now.  God’s first answer to me was that forgiveness means choosing to live with unbalanced scales.  I don’t get to make things even and it must be my choice.  Fine.  But that seems like more of an outcome than a process.  I kept praying.

On the Cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” (Luke 23:34).  Wait… what?  His executioners believed they were right.  They weren’t repenting of anything.  But Jesus asked for them.  As if God would offer out forgiveness to those who weren’t even looking for it, who felt they had no need of it, who were… just like any one of us before Jesus came knocking and we answered the door.  His work for our salvation was complete 2000 years ago, long before I chose to part ways with God’s will.  So the forgiveness of my sins has been on offer since Jesus paid the price.  But I had to accept it, admit that I needed it, for there to be reconciliation with God.  Okay, I get the point.  If Jesus could ask forgiveness for the people who tortured and crucified Him, those who trespass against me aren’t likely to ever even approach that bar.  But still, how I am supposed to do that?

Salvation, through forgiveness from God, is a gift.  Like a present under a Christmas tree, waiting for the recipient to read the tag, find his name, and accept it.  That tag says To: Beloved Sinner / From: All Loving God.  Now this is an image I can work with.  I wrap up my forgiveness ~and everything that goes with it, put a name on the tag with a bow, and leave it under the tree, the Cross, out of my hands and out of my heart.  If the recipient never claims it, I’ve still done my part.

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