So for the past four weeks, I have been participating in the “Pastors’ Bible Study” at our new church home, and I feel like I’m on the inside track to each Sunday sermon.
Our pastors have been doing a Sunday series on the Lord’s Prayer, dissecting it, taking it apart, and piecing it back together with new relevance and deeper meaning. And each Wednesday preceding the sermon, one of the three pastors of our church leads a small group Bible study as a prelude. We have been focusing on the Lord’s Prayer in chunks, in order, and whaddya know, tonight’s chunk was the heady part, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Also known as, one of the hardest things (if not the hardest) a Christian can be called to do. Say it with me, would you?
This, then, is how you should pray:
‘Our Father in Heaven,
hallowed be Your name,
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done
on Earth as it is in Heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts,
As we have also forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one. (Matthew 6:9-13, NIV)
What I have failed (conveniently enough) to notice in prior readings were the following verses:
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)
How about that? Out of the entire prayer we can recite by heart, heads bowed and eyes closed, Jesus chose to footnote the forgiveness part. (And if He bothered to jot His sermons down, I bet He would have underlined it, too.)
And as we went around the room, chewing on that fat, several questions came to light. What does forgiveness look like? Can forgiveness exist alongside justice? What if someone killed my wife and kids? Is God’s forgiveness to us really conditional? Jesus’ additional words on that certainly doesn’t coincide with the majority of the New Testament’s depiction of God: forgiving, not vengeful; unconditional, not inconsistent; perfect, despite our imperfections. If God’s forgiveness was truly dependent on my ability to forgive, well…let’s not bet the farm on that one. (We humans are pretty good at holding onto tree limbs and grudges. It must be our opposable thumbs.)
And so, because I’m still the newest member of the class, and tend to sweat uncommonly when put on the spot, and happened to wear a red blouse tonight that would have betrayed my pit stains like a Rorschach test (::shakes fist::), I didn’t do much verbal participating in tonight’s discussion. Consequently, I will blog about it. (Lucky you!)
When I think of forgiveness, divine forgiveness, I think of reconciliation. To me, it looks like restoration: a restoration of faith, of relationship, of peace of mind. Because of God’s forgiveness, I am reconciled to Him. His forgiveness is the cornerstone, the essence of Christianity. It is the reason I am offered the inheritance of Heaven. Forgiveness is a bridge, I think, to fellowship.
I don’t know the spiritual repercussions of refusing to forgive someone who has wronged me; Jesus seems to make it clear that God will, in turn, refuse forgiveness to me. Does that mean my salvation is in danger? Does that mean it is conditional? Does that mean my inheritance is in jeopardy, and reliant on my abilities (or inabilities) instead of God’s? There’s a whole lotta theology swimming around those two sentences, but the thing is, I majored in math.
There are only a few things I know for sure:
1. God loves me unconditionally (zits and all).
2. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was sufficient justice for all my transgressions. (Halle-freaking-lujah, am I right?)
3. My invitation to Heaven is dependent only on my acceptance of Jesus’ free gift and His worth and declaration (so I can tell the bouncer, “I’m with Him”).
The ability to forgive, and not just to forgive but to continually forgive and to perfectly forgive (meaning, it won’t come up in an unrelated argument three years later as a trump card) is a divine ability that God invites me to partake in, one that I’ll generally need His help with. I don’t see those last two sentences as a threat, but a promise. Forgiving others isn’t for their benefit, or their reconciliation with the Lord. It doesn’t guarantee their righteousness or their cleanliness or even their repentance. To forgive others is to sample what our God is all about. (And who doesn’t want some of that?) To forgive others is my task, my calling, my reward.
To forgive others is to exact the promise that God makes consistently, the promise that I, also and definitively, am Forgiven.