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‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.’  Jesus is not saying that God’s forgiveness is conditional upon our forgiving others.  In the first place, forgiveness that is conditional isn’t forgiveness at all, just fair warning; and in the second place, our unforgiveness is among those things about us that we need to have God forgive us most.  What Jesus is apparently saying is that the pride that keeps us from forgiving is the same pride that keeps us from accepting forgiveness, and will God please help us do something about it.  ~Frederick Buechner, Beyond Words, page 119   

What would we need forgiveness for if we never messed up when it comes to forgiveness?  Surely God gives us no free sin passes like one of those coffee cards you get where they punch it every time you visit your favorite cafe and buy a drink of some sort (buy nine and get the tenth free).  Behave nine days and on the tenth day you can sin as much as you like isn’t what God has in mind for his children.  But we have to figure he’s prepared a way for us when we do sin, don’t we?  What are we to do when we haven’t been forgiving and we find ourselves needing forgiveness for that?

If there is no possibility of us being unforgiving, then there is no possibility of us falling short of God’s own glory and perfection.  But we do fall short (Romans 3:23).  You see, only God forgives perfectly.  We forgive imperfectly just as we love imperfectly.  We wrestle with our weaker selves and often take days, weeks, months, and sometimes longer—to actually forgive.  

8 Do not remember against us our former iniquities;
   let your compassion come speedily to meet us,
   for we are brought very low.
9 Help us, O God of our salvation,
   for the glory of your name;
   deliver us, and atone for our sins,
   for your name’s sake!  ~Psalm 79:8-9, ESV

As Buechner says, our unforgiveness is among those things about us that we need to have God forgive us most.  


We are all wounded people. Who wounds us? Often those whom we love and those who love us. When we feel rejected, abandoned, abused, manipulated, or violated, it is mostly by people very close to us: our parents, our friends, our spouses, our lovers, our children, our neighbors, our teachers, our pastors. Those who love us wound us too. That’s the tragedy of our lives. This is what makes forgiveness from the heart so difficult. It is precisely our hearts that are wounded. We cry out, ‘You, who I expected to be there for me, you have abandoned me. How can I ever forgive you for that?’

Forgiveness often seems impossible, but nothing is impossible for God. The God who lives within us will give us the grace to go beyond our wounded selves and say, ‘In the Name of God you are forgiven.’ Let’s pray for that grace.  ~Henri Nouwen

The young whipper snapper who cuts you off on your morning commute causing you to spill your hot coffee all over your shirt and tie may make you mad as one of Michael Vick’s former pit bulls, but the rude driver isn’t very likely to hurt you.  It’s those closest to us who we must learn to forgive most, we might as well get used to it. 

God gives us no seasonal permits or hunting licenses to hold grudges and resentment towards one another. You might say “There are just some things that are impossible to forgive,” and maybe there are, without God.  All things are possible with him.  And if it were the case, that some things can’t be forgiven, don’t you think God would have spelled that out in his letters to us from home? 

A musician friend named Link gave me a lift from the airport a couple years back while I was scratching and clawing to survive in Nashville (at the time, I was still very much on the heels of my recent divorce).  He picked me up in his slightly used black Land Rover he’d just purchased.  He couldn’t help but show it off as he had every reason to; it was a nice ride and he bought it for a song and dance. 

We ended up having a good conversation during our short trip.  As it turned out, the conversation turned to forgiveness (which had me feeling a little queasy since it was something I was really struggling with).  We delved into the trouble we have in forgiving no matter what and in forgiving quickly (I hate to admit it, but I have been guilty of trying to make a person or two I have been really ticked off at squirm and grovel a little before I forgave them).

I realize that unforgiveness comes down to a sort of exercise of power on my part.  But that’s what makes it appealing, to my flesh that is—abusing the power I possess at someone else’s expense (God has given us power for simply one reason the way I see it, and that is to bless one another, not to be bitter with one another). It’s as if I want to let my offender know, “Hey, you hurt me and I want you to feel my pain too.”  Before he dropped me at my destination my friend shared a powerful truth that night that he’d recently heard his pastor share.  And it still challenges me to this day.

So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.  (Colossians 3:12-14, The Message)

It’s when we refuse to forgive quickly and completely that the poison of unforgiveness begins to fester and spread like an open-infected wound, polluting our entire being and our relationships. 

Oh, and about my friend’s pastor.  He said, Forgiveness is not a place we are trying to get to, forgiveness is the place we start.

If we are going to get anywhere in our relationships, we must forgive first, and we must forgive fully.

It takes one person to forgive, it takes two people to be reunited.  ~Lewis B. Smedes

Anytime forgiveness is handled like some sort of business deal it will come up short of accomplishing what it was intended to do.  Forgiveness is not a commodity to be traded.  When you cut through the smoke and get down to the evidence, broken relationships are more times than not the by-product of treating forgiveness as such.

You can forgive and not attain reconciliation. 

Forgiveness comes down to feeling taken advantage of but refusing to return the favor.  I quote Philip Yancey a bit I realize, however, he has some excellent insights on this issue in his book, What’s So Amazing about Grace?  Here he quotes theologian Helmut Thielicke, “a German who lived through the horrors of Nazism”—followed by a few of his own thoughts: 

‘This business of forgiving is by no means a simple thing…. We say, Very well, if the other fellow is sorry and begs my pardon, I will forgive him, then I’ll give in.  We make of forgiveness a law of reciprocity.  And this never works.  For then both of us say to ourselves, The other fellow has to make the first move.  And then I watch like a hawk to see whether the other person will flash a signal to me with his eyes or whether I can detect some small hint between the lines of his letter which shows he is sorry.  I am always on the point of forgiving… but I never forgive.  I am far too just.’ 

The only remedy [continues Yancey], Thielicke concluded, was his realization that God had forgiven his sins and given him another chance—the lesson of the parable of the unforgiving servant.  Breaking the cycle of ungrace means taking the initiative.   Instead of waiting for his neighbor to make the first move, Thielicke must do so, defying the law of retribution and fairness.  He did this only when he realized that God’s initiative lay at the heart of the gospel he had been preaching but not practicing.

…Like Helmut Thielicke, all too often I drift back into a tit-for-tat struggle that slams the door on forgiveness.  Why should I make the first move?  I was the one wronged.  So I make no move, and cracks in the relationship appear, then widen.  In time a chasm yawns open that seems impossible to cross.  I feel sad, but seldom do I accept the blame.  Instead, I justify myself and point out the small gestures I made toward reconciliation.  I keep a mental accounting of those attempts so as to defend myself if I am ever blamed for the rift.  I flee from the risk of grace to the security of ungrace (page 91).  

I’m certain there are those of us who can relate to creating a scale of sorts in which the sins an individual commits against us “better not” outweigh ours against them.  It’s almost as if to say, “Until you can prove I am guilty of the same offense you’ve committed against me, I’m not forgiving you.” But Jesus never taught degrees of sin.  He never put a clause in some forgiveness contract that gave anyone a right to refuse another forgiveness due to some implied superiority.   Trading forgiveness with one another so long as both parties involved feel like they aren’t being taken advantage of isn’t forgiveness—it’s a recipe for relationship ruin. 

16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all (Romans 12:16-18, ESV). 

Paul’s admonition here doesn’t have the ring of a “forgiveness deal”.  Think about it, the kind of  forgiveness God heaps on us is not anything less than scandalous.  I mean, when was the last time a forgiveness deal you struck didn’t fail?  And if it hasn’t yet, trust me on this one, it will. 

There are no successful forgiveness deals.  There is only forgiven granted.   

From childhood we are taught how to succeed in the world of ungrace. ‘You get what you pay for.’ ‘The early bird gets the worm.’ ‘No pain, no gain.’ I know these rules well because I live by them. I work for what I earn; I like to win; I insist on my rights. I want people to get what they deserve. 
…If I care to listen, I hear a loud whisper from the gospel that I did not get what I deserved. I deserved punishment and got forgiveness. I deserved wrath and got love. I deserved debtor’s prison and got instead a clean credit history. I deserved stern lectures and crawl-on-your-knees repentance. Instead, I got a banquet spread for me.  ~Philip Yancey, in ‘Our Daily Bread’
Seems I struggle to forgive. I might restrain myself when it comes to the eye for an eye thing, but if  you haul off and hit me, I might just slug you back in the mouth.  Sometimes I am impressed at how well I forgive, only to be flat out embarrassed at how poorly I do the next time I get the unwelcome opportunity. 
It’d be a whole lot easier if this forgiveness thing could be just straight up fair and square.
‘To you who are ready for the truth, I say this: Love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer for that person. If someone slaps you in the face, stand there and take it. If someone grabs your shirt, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously (Jesus, Luke 6:27-30, The Message).’
Forgiveness makes no economical sense.  You see, if we grant forgiveness on a merit basis, we will never extend it to one another.  If you come over to my house tomorrow morning and steal my computer, you certainly wouldn’t be silly enough to call  me later in the afternoon and demand that I forgive you because you “deserve it.”  That’s nonsense.  You’d deserve a visit over at county jail.  But many of us treat forgiveness as such, as something to be earned.  My point is this: You wouldn’t deserve forgiveness for your crime, but that doesn’t mean I would owe you less.  It’s not my role to decide who should be forgiven, and for what offenses.  God has decided that.  He has forgiven me for every last despicable sin of mine—past, present, and future—Thus, I have no right to withhold forgiveness from you in any case presented.
You can’t purchase or sell forgiveness like a stock to be traded because the only forgiveness worth a dime costs nothing.
You will know that forgiveness has begun when you recall those who hurt you and feel the power to wish them well.   ~Lewis B. Smedes
Philip Yancey, in his book, What’s So Amazing about Grace, has a few chapters on this uncomfortable topic of forgiveness (you know, the thing others need to grant you, but the same thing you can live without giving to others).  He shares the following story in his chapter titled, An Unnatural Act.
I had a friend (now dead) who worked on the staff of Wheaton College for many years, during the course of which he heard several thousand chapel messages.  In time most of these faded into a forgettable blur, but a few stood out.  In particular he loved retelling the story of Sam Moffat, a professor at Princeton Seminary who had served as a missionary in China.  Moffat told the Wheaton students a gripping tale of his flight from Communist pursuers.  They seized his house and all his possessions, burned the missionary compound, and killed some of his closest friends.  Moffat’s own family barely escaped.  When he left China, Moffat took with him a deep resentment against the followers of Chairman Mao, a resentment that metastasized inside him.  Finally, he told the Wheaton students, he faced a singular crisis of faith.  ‘I realized,’ said Moffat, ‘that if I have no forgiveness for the Communists, then I have no message at all’ (page 90).   
Have you ever found yourself needing to forgive someone but you just felt like you couldn’t possibly bring yourself to do it, or worse yet, you didn’t feel like you should and didn’t much want to either.
I have had both of the above take place more times than I have stubbed a toe.  And I have a hunch I am not alone.
4Forgive us our sins,
      for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. 
   And lead us not into temptation.  (Jesus, Luke 11:4, NIV)
Is there a certain someone that you haven’t forgiven?
Don’t wait twenty years to forgive the person who has offended you, or maybe even violated you beyond words.

Grace substitutes a full, childlike, and delighted acceptance of our need, a joy in total dependence. We become ‘jolly beggars.’ ~C.S. Lewis

There is something about those rare birds who have learned to soar above the ho-hum life many of us have become accustomed to living, knowingly or not.  Maybe you don’t know the ones I am speaking of here.

Philip Yancey shares the following:

Not long ago I received in the mail a postcard from a friend that had on it only six words, ‘I am the one Jesus loves.’ I smiled when I saw the return address, for my strange friend excels at these pious slogans. When I called him, though, he told me the slogan came from the author and speaker Brennan Manning. At a seminar, Manning referred to Jesus’ closest friend on earth, the disciple named John, identified in the Gospels as ‘the one Jesus loved.’ Manning said, “If John were to be asked, ‘What is your primary identity in life?’ he would not reply, ‘I am a disciple, an apostle, an evangelist, an author of one of the four Gospels,’ but rather, ‘I am the one Jesus loves.'”

What would it mean, I ask myself, if I too came to the place where I saw my primary identity in life as ‘the one Jesus loves’? How differently would I view myself at the end of a day?

Sociologists have a theory of the looking-glass self: you become what the most important person in your life (wife, father, boss, etc.) thinks you are. How would my life change if I truly believed the Bible’s astounding words about God’s love for me, if I looked in the mirror and saw what God sees?

Brennan Manning tells the story of an Irish priest who, on a walking tour of a rural parish, sees an old peasant kneeling by the side of the road, praying. Impressed, the priest says to the man, ‘You must be very close to God.’ The peasant looks up from his prayers, thinks a moment, and then smiles, ‘Yes, he’s very fond of me.’  (What’s So Amazing About Grace?, pages 68-69)

I too, was reminded about this kind of simple dependance upon God yesterday when I stumbled across the following verse that one of my daughters had posted.  

Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes (Matthew 6:34, The Message).

The full life Jesus speaks of is a life of learned dependance .

a blog about radical discipleship, the gospel of grace, a theology of the cross, Christian spirituality, the mission of the church in this world and whatever else on the same wave length that may be running around the brain of a hopeful Protestant.

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