“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors... 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 6:12, 14-15 (NRSV).
We can be forgiven—pardon the pun—in struggling to forgive, not understanding the nature of grace is to consider others the same as ourselves. Jesus, of course, propounds the fact in the next chapter of Matthew; verse 12. The golden rule is, do to others as we would have them do to us—this sums up the spirituality of relationships.
We may figure God having a sense of humour; we get coming right back at us exactly what we give out. You can’t get any fairer than that.
There is an important clarification so far as forgiveness is concerned. Forgiveness is normally offered and accepted—the two-way street. Many people falsely see no attribution of forgiveness other than via the two-way street; they think forgiveness offered that’s not accepted is not full forgiveness. This two-way street is not the type of forgiveness, I think, that Jesus has in mind here, above.
When we think about it, in most cases, forgiveness does not involve two parties equally, as there is usually one party more aggrieved than the other is. In many cases, only one party is aggrieved; they are the ones that struggle to forgive.
If we can accept that forgiveness can also be a one-way street—the process offering grace, without necessarily being accepted—then we can progress. After all, if forgiveness is not forgiveness because of some part another person plays or doesn’t play, how on earth do we achieve it?
But this is not our prime focus.
Now, to the business end of the discussion on forgiveness.
The Plain Truth on How Forgiveness Works
As suggested above, the key to forgiveness is humility.
Rather than pray for humility, however, God makes us able to be more humble at the pure consideration of our many imperfections—not to be put down by them but to see them in their true light.
Strangely, focusing on our own sinfulness is the secret to humility, which is also the foundation of a forgiving manner.
The truth of our sinfulness—seeing it raw and true—is blessing because a miraculous thing happens when such humility becomes us; suddenly we see the moment and our world as they truly are. God, that moment, has blessed us with his vision. There are a plethora of spin-offs. Unabashed joy coats our demeanour and others are blessed by us without the waft of an effort.
When we see ourselves aright—struggling in our sinfulness, but not giving up—we see God’s grace all the more, and we see others in a much better light, naturally. We have adopted fairness and justice.
Forgiveness works as a miracle, but one engendered by our investment in humility.
God blesses such an investment—the commitment to true sight—with provision of feelings of forgiveness that we cannot explain; hence the miracle. We cannot claim this as a work of our own. It is too marvellous for us.
The Reversal in Forgiveness
There is a classic irony in forgiveness as we’ve touched on above. We are fooled to think that the person betraying, disregarding, or hurting us is the only one to have done wrong.
Forgiveness can only occur, genuinely, when—in the initial state—we comprehend our own sinfulness and need of God’s unrelenting forgiveness. Understanding that the compassion of the Lord to forgive us, once and for all, is incomprehensible can’t be understated.
It helps us understand how comparatively small our forgiveness of someone’s indiscretion against us is. This is not to downplay the hurt we feel, but it puts it into perspective.
When we put the acid of condemnation on ourselves, and find afresh that God has instead replaced that acid with the cream of forgiveness, we are so much more able to see that favour we ought to extend to others.
Forgiveness is, indeed, a reversal. It has nothing to do with the other person. Forgiveness is about us and God. If we struggle with this let’s rethink grace. That’s the Catch-22 of forgiveness—it begins and ends with us and our processes with God.
© 2011 S. J. Wickham.