Saturday, April 14, 2012: Forgiveness
April 14, 2012 § Leave a comment
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. ~ Matthew 6.14, 15 ~
After the Lord’s Prayer, Christ returns to the issue of forgiveness. Apparently, Christ felt that this matter deserved more attention, even though he spoke of forgiveness frequently in the previous verses. This ties in well with the greater theme of proper relationship: forgiveness occupies a central role in the Kingdom of Heaven, for it is necessary for healthy human relationship.
However, Christ’s words here seem disturbing, if not shocking. Christ ties the forgiveness of heaven and the forgiveness of earth directly together, making it clear that we cannot hang on to offenses and harbor bitterness and expect the forgiveness of heaven for our own faults.
This is tough to hear! In the current church world, we have placed a great deal of (rightful) emphasis on the fact that God is not bound by our own actions or mistakes. We know that we are not big enough to stop God, nor powerful enough to break his plan. We also believe that God is all-powerful love, one who is able to forgive any sin. In light of this (again, proper) understanding of God, this verse doesn’t make much sense.
This verse can challenge us in two ways. First, it may make God appear less powerful than we think; can God possibly be limited by the fact that we need to forgive others? Is there any possible way that we, as created beings, can be more powerful than our Creator? This verse might make it seem so. Secondly, this verse could be read in a way that makes it look like God is not a god of love, after all. Does God pick and choose which sins to forgive, denying forgiveness to those who don’t deserve it? Both of these struggles raise questions about the nature of God as we know him.
To help us get through this tough question, we need to remember our context, especially all that we’ve learned about the realities of the Beatitudes and the Kingdom of Heaven through our study. We remember that Christ says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.” We’ve seen that the Kingdom of Heaven values proper relationship, so much so that those who work to bring about proper relationship will be seen as being a part of God’s family. But things go the other way, too: if one does not work for peace, then that person seriously compromises the relationship with God by allowing (and perhaps even purposefully encouraging) the relationship with others to be fractured.
So, it’s not a matter of humans being more powerful than God or God angrily withholding forgiveness. Rather, forgiveness is an active process on the part of all parties involved. God extends forgiveness to us, through his grace, when we place ourselves in proper relationship with him. When we admit our own spiritual brokenness and inadequacy, we then actively reach out and receive God’s forgiveness, thus opening the door for us to experience the realities of the Kingdom. The process of forgiveness does not become completed if we do not receive God’s forgiveness.
When we harbor bitterness and grudges, we remove ourselves from the realities of the Kingdom. Peacemaking, forgiveness, and proper relationship are all a part of these realities. As Christ has been teaching, when we allow disharmony to exist between ourselves and others, we also allow disharmony to exist between ourselves and God.
The fix is to allow God’s Holy Spirit to work in us; as God exercises forgiveness and extends it toward us, so must we share his forgiveness with others. This is how the Kingdom works. We do rejoice that we are not big enough to “break” the Kingdom of Heaven, but we also live in the reality that just as God has forgiven us, we also forgive others.
Lord Christ, these words are hard to hear! I know that you know my struggles with others and how deeply they have hurt me. Please help me to live in the reality of your forgiveness; help me to accept your forgiveness, that you so graciously offer. And, in turn, help me to extend the same grace and forgiveness to others. Amen.
How do these verses challenge your understanding of forgiveness? How do these verses encourage us to forgive?