“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
This line of the Lord’s Prayer contains so many emotions: hope, love, peace, anger, frustration, and many others depending on where you are in the process of forgiving others, yourselfand even God. It has been my experience that this is an often misunderstood process and unrealistic expectations due to this misunderstanding often help folks become more bitter and angry and hurt than they may otherwise be. Let’s just talk turkey and get honest here. We are not good at forgiveness because we do not understand it. The Church Universal says we must do it. Often there is no discussion on explanation as to how. We are told that if we do not than we are not forgiven ourselves. We are told to just pray about it. Often that is it. There is so much more.
First, we can forgive without the presence of God in our lives…….it is harder, doesn’t last as long, is exhausting, and isn’t as sincere but it can be done. Second, God does not withhold forgiveness from us. That is a myth that is not consistent with the overall theme of unconditional grace that is provided in the Bible. We base that on a couple of verses one of which is John 20:23, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld from you.” Another is Matthew 6:14-15, “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.” Interpretation of these verses depends on how literally you take the Bible. Over the years I have come to believe that we have confused human forgiveness and Godly forgiveness to the point that we truly expect ourselves to be God-like in our ability to forgive.
We base so much of what we do on how we feel. We feel forgiven or we don’t. We think we have not forgiven someone if one day we remember something and we are hurt or angry all over again. Let’s get one thing clear: forgiveness is not pardoning, it is not forgetting, and it is not reconciliation. Forgiveness is letting go of our own emotions so that the event or theperson no longer has control over us. If we continue to be hurt, angry, bitter, etc. the even or the person controls us. Forgiveness is taking control of yourself and your emotions back. It is perhaps the most selfish thing you can possibly do because you stop wasting time and energy on things that are past, people and events you cannot control, and embittering behavior that will eventaully consume you.
I do not believe that God withholds forgiveness. It is inconsistent with God providing salvation, working to be in relationship with us, and guiding us to become better individuals. If God is the example we follow in our behavior, why would God tell us we forgive and then withhold forgiveness from us (especially after all the work that God has put into reaching us and forgiving us)? It simply does not make sense. I will have to state that the Bible is clear about there being one sin that is unforgivable. What most of us need to realize is that to get to that point, we have truly become evil and will continually reject God to the point of our own destruction. That is not God withholding forgiveness, that is a human choice to permanently reject the forgiveness that God offers. I have come to believe that God understands that we do not feel forgiven and then are so hurt and angry that we are incapable of forgiving someone else. We need God to truly forgive and heal. I am not convinced that humanity can do it alone. Sometimes, it takes a long time to do it even when we are diligent and do the work of forgiveness.
The work of forgiveness isn’t often dicussed. We really think that if we pray about it a few times that we have forgiven someone and it’s all good. It can happen that way (never underestimate God!). Most often, we have to choose over and over again to forgive someone. Most often, we have to work at it and decide to let the pain, hurt, and anger go over and over and over and over again. I firmly believe that what God is after with the above mentioned verses is for us to realize that we have to be active participants in forgiveness. We must do the work of forgiveness. We must decided each moment, each time, each event, each hurtful remark, etc. to let it go. Then we must realize that when it comes back to haunt us, it’s not that we failed to forgive; it is that we failed to forget! We are not capable of that – that action belongs to God. So each time, we forgive. Each time, we put it away again until one day it is truly gone. This is a process that results in growth, compassion, emotional and spiritual maturity and deepens our relationship with God and with others. We can come to realize the wonder of God in that God can forget and holds our trespasses over us no more.
The harm done to us and to others by withholding forgiveness is unbelievable. This is one of the most destructive acts that humanity can partake in. It destroys us spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically. We have lost control of ourselves and the situation the minute we decide to withhold forgiveness. We have decided that someone is completely beyond redemption and is no longer worthy of our time and love. It is a dangerous game to play. The person the most destroyed is us. We have relinquished control of ourselves to someone else and we let them play us even if they have walked away and are no longer actively participating in our lives and emotions. Today, do the work. Be diligent and consistent and do the work. Pray about it so that your heart is changed and you are able to let hurt and anger go. Be with God so that you can be transformed and come to understand that forgiveness releases you not the other person. There are still consequences. There are still things that must be done and words that must be said. Today, choose freedom.