C. S. Lewis observed that “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have to forgive.” (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity) Yes, I do love to preach and to write about forgiveness, but sometimes find it so difficult to forgive those who have hurt me. Yet, Jesus makes a connection between the way we experience our Father’s forgiveness and the way we forgive others.
Strikingly, Jesus asks us to forgive without requiring any repentance by the offender. Jesus says simply, “When you are praying, forgive” (Mark 11:25). Notice that forgiveness is accomplished while praying. Repentance and reconciliation with an offender may come later (Matthew 18:15-17), but first we make the decision to unconditionally forgive. Just as God forgives us before we accept it, so we are to do the same with those who wrong us. Forgiveness has nothing to do with our feelings or our thoughts, but is a choice we make. We choose to let go the offender to God along with our desire to get even. We pray, willing the good of our offender, just as God does for us.
It is not that God highhandedly decides to make His forgiveness of us dependent on our forgiveness of others. Rather, we block the free flowing of God’s forgiveness when we fail to forgive. Just as a closed fist cannot receive a gift, so it is impossible to experience God’s forgiveness if we refuse to forgive others, as well as ourselves. Theologian N. T. Wright describes the dynamics of forgiveness:
“Forgiveness is more like the air in your lungs. There’s only room for you to inhale the next lungful when you’ve just breathed out the previous one. If you insist on withholding it, refusing to give someone else the kiss of life they may desperately need, you won’t be able to take any more in yourself, and you will suffo- cate very quickly. Whatever the spiritual, moral and emotional equivalent of the lungs may be…it’s either open or closed. If it’s open, able and willing to forgive others, it will also be open to receive God’s love and forgiveness. But if it’s locked up to the one, it will be locked up to the other. This is a hard lesson to learn.”(N. T. Wright, Matthew for Everyone, Part 2)
What a wondrous promise God makes to us when He forgives us: “I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:34). “It is not psychologically possible for us to know God’s pity for us and at the same time be hardhearted towards others.” (Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy) We let go to the Friend and Savior of sinners, asking His help as we pray, “And forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”
PRAY THE LORD’S PRAYER (MORNING-NOON-NIGHT)