Forgiveness…

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… joins Repentance and Good Fruits
Reading: Matthew 6:12,14-15

“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (v.12)

“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.” (vv.14-15)

Is the Lord’s forgiveness conditional? We have read of the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:23-35) wherein a forgiveness granted was even taken back by the King. Why? I thought I could go to God with all my filth and do not need to clean up my act before He accepts me. This is a verse that has baffled me for a long time.

But isn’t it a ridiculous idea as well when we can be forgiven, and we do not have to forgive others ourselves? That doesn’t make sense, does it? We are not more deserving than anyone to be forgiven—anybody can be forgiven. There is no sin or offence so great it cannot be forgiven, except the continuous rejection of God (Matthew 12:31-32). A person may have had committed one or several offences against us, but we were born sinners and have been sinning against God most of our lives.

When we go to God in repentance, there is the expectation that we are feeling sorry for the wrong things that we’ve done (including being unforgiving). Being unforgiving is the exact opposite of feeling sorry—it’s a mixed feeling of hate, anger, self-righteousness, grudge perhaps, even revenge, and many other revolting things. It is difficult to forgive, but just as we can ask God to help us with our unbelief (Mark 9:24), we can ask His help for our issues of non-forgiveness. Lord, help me to forgive! Help me to remember how You have forgiven me—how You took my place of punishment on the cross! May I extend the same mercy and grace that you have bestowed on me!

I am quoting an explanation provided in my NIV Study Bible:
“… When we don’t forgive others, we are denying our common ground as sinners in need of God’s forgiveness. God’s forgiveness is not the direct result of our forgiving others, but it is based on our realizing what forgiveness means…. Whenever we ask God to forgive us for sin, we should ask ourselves, ‘Have I forgiven the people who have wronged me?’”

I am not a person of rituals, but I think one day (when I get to have the time), I would want to write the names of people who have hurt me on narrow strips of paper and burn them one by one (or I could start doing it in my head now). I know I have already made the bold decision and bold statement to God that I have forgiven, but I would want to mark a day that I could look back to, so that when the demons of the past come back haunting me of past hurts and pain, I could remind myself that the Lord has already released me from those chains.

Life after forgiveness
I think what made forgiveness difficult in the past was the community expectation (or pressure) that you will continue to behave the same way towards those who have offended you—sweet, chummy and friendly as ever. Like nothing has happened, and you have to feign not having a memory of it. But we have not been wired that way—God didn’t make us like computers wherein we could just delete a chapter from a book we’re writing in a word processor. But when we don’t behave the same way, we’re judged as not having extended forgiveness, resulting to us doubting if we have indeed forgiven already those who have wronged us.

There are minor offences wherein we can easily restore the same relationship. There are really grave ones that have really scarred us so deeply—changed us forever, changed our lives. A changed behaviour may be a part of our evolving from the experience, of realisation, of decisions (like what kind of people we should not be in company with anymore). It doesn’t necessarily mean we have not forgiven—we just have learned a lesson, and from thereon we try to be wise in our decisions. It’s also possible that after the experience we realise that we have outgrown the person who offended us, and we just have to move on.

But what IS forgiveness?

Forgiveness is not holding the offence against the offender anymore. Not today, not in the future. We make the decision not to dig up the past and bring up old issues in our future (if ever) arguments. It is extending the same love, mercy and grace the Lord has given us. It is giving the person another chance, a clean slate to start with. Proverbs 10:12 says “love covers all wrongs”.

And for the opportunities lost, for the things destroyed, for the things that will never happen anymore—we will just have to stop regretting, lamenting and being bitter about it all. We will just have to learn to accept and come to terms with what we have on our hands now, and move on. The Lord is able (and He will) to work all things together for good (Romans 8:28), and whatever work He has started on us, he will bring to completion (Philippians 1:6)—what a comfort!

We know we have extended forgiveness if we can love. In I Corinthians 13:4-8,13 it says:

Love is patient,
love is kind.
It does not envy,
it does not boast,
it is not proud.
It does not dishonor others,
it is not self-seeking,
it is not easily angered,
it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects,
always trusts,
always hopes,
always perseveres.
Love never fails.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

“… But I tell you: Love your enemies….” – Matthew 5:44

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” – John 15:13

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