One of the things I struggle most with in my life as a Christian is forgiveness. Jesus spoke more about forgiveness than He did about many sins that need forgiveness. I think He did that because He knew that refusing to forgive was more dangerous than many sins.
Refusing to forgive is self-destructive. It can become a vicious cancer that eats at our spirit. But most of all, withholding forgiveness puts us in a perilous position before God. Every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer we say some frightening words, “Father forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” This petition makes two claims. First, that we are indebted to God whom we implore to forgive our sins. Second, that we can expect God to forgive our sins only as we forgive. That is the scary part for me.
Jesus commented upon this petition when he said, “For if you forgive men their sins, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their sins neither will your Father forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15). This is not because God does not want to forgive, God is love and wants to forgive us, but God cannot forgive if we will not be forgiving. When we refuse to forgive we show that we do not understand or appreciate God’s forgiveness.
Jesus told a story about a servant who defaulted on a debt of “10 million dollars” to his master. He went to his master to ask for mercy which was given. This same servant went and seized another servant who owed him “20 dollars” and demanded payment. When the master learned what happened he revoked the cancellation of the “10 million dollar” debt. The point is plain: Do not expect God to forgive your greater debt to Him unless you can show you know what is is to be forgiven by forgiving.
But how do we forgive a hurt that shatters our dreams, breaks our trust, destroys our self-confidence, breaks a relationship? There is no easy answer. We are not talking about excusing a slight or acting as if nothing happened. Forgiveness does not mean that we forget the hurt. Forgiveness is about letting go of anger and revenge. Forgiveness means each person faces what has been done, assesses and assumes their part, resolves to bear the shame and the hurt and begin anew. It can be a long, difficult journey. Lord help us to learn to forgive others as you have forgiven us.
Offered by the Rev. Dr. Michael Elmore
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