I have been blessed with a number of great opportunities to forgive recently.
I say that tongue in cheek. Forgiveness is hard work. It’s a tricky thing. Forgiveness has a way of being tangible when you concentrate on it, but the moment you lose focus, it dissolves. You are soon back to holding grudges that nurture resentment, despair and anger. It is something one has to fight hard to obtain, and even harder to retain.
It is a quintessentially Christian ideal. We must not wish karma upon others, or take vengeance upon those we consider infidels. We are taught to turn the other cheek, to love our enemies and do good to those who persecute us. Not once. Not seven times. Always.
Our Lord went so far as to proclaim forgiveness from the cross whilst He was being crucified. One of the last things He said was, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” The bible tells us that Christ is now at the right hand of the Father, interceding for us in Heaven so that no charge may be brought against His elect (Rom 8:33-34). We fully deserve the charges, but are instead forgiven in Christ.
Forgiveness is a big thing to God. It’s the coin of Christianity’s realm.
Upon being granted salvation, He pours upon us heaps of forgiveness. He drowns our old Adam and washes away our sins through the waters of baptism. He puts us into right standing before Him, clothes us in His righteousness and grants us eternal life.
Then He sends us out among the wolves to savor our forgiveness and to learn to grant it to others. It’s a strange currency: the more we are aware of how much forgiveness He has given us, the more we want spend it upon others. The more we spend it, the more we become aware of how much He has forgiven us. If used wisely, it can become a lavish and extravagant cycle. If used sparingly, it leads to bitterness and hatred, grudges and vendettas. Vengeance becomes ours.
How do we get to the point of forgiving those who trespass against us? There are a couple of tricks to this form of trading. The first is to become painfully aware of what a dreadful sinner you are. We stand condemned, fully and completely. Not a moment goes by in any day when we are not worshipping in the temple of Self and glorifying our own beings. Try as we might, we fail abysmally at loving God or our neighbor. We are law-breakers, pure and simple. Being Christian does not stop us from breaking God’s Holy Law. Indeed, we become more aware of the laws we break day-by-day, moment-by-moment. As St. Paul says, he wasn’t even aware that coveting was a sin, until he was shown it in God’s law (Romans 7:7).
The key is to remember how much God has had to forgive you. Romans 1 & 2 make this pretty clear. He gives a long list of sins from which we can choose. I know which ones my favorites are, please feel free to choose yours:
Unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice, envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness, gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. (From Romans 1:29-32)
It’s a great laundry list, isn’t it? But here is the kicker:
Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. (Romans 2:1)
When we judge others, we condemn ourselves! We get hurt and offended by others yet we are guilty before the Holy God. However, God in His abundant mercy has forgiven us all these sins. So, we cling to our forgiveness. When people offend and hurt us, we forgive them, remembering how wondrously God in Christ has forgiven us.
If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
so that we can, with reverence, serve you.
(Psalm 103:3-4 NIV)