One of the things I dislike most about writing new blogs posts is coming up with a title. That's why I haven't written in a month--I haven't been able to think of a good title. It's so much pressure. I have just a few short words to try to hook you in and get you to read what follows. For a person who uses such a high volume of unnecessary words when they write, this is a tall order. I recently noticed how the titles given to many of the works of Philo are very straight to the point. Examples: "On the Creation," "On Abraham," "On the Eternity of the World," etc. Maybe I'll adopt that style. Before long you'll be reading "On Another Metaphor I Make Up to Make the Point that I Can't Get a Date."
A lot of people know the Lord's Prayer from Matthew 6. We teach little kids to kneel by their beds and pray these words, and then we recite them when we go to fancy churches that still have organs. There's a line in that prayer that brings us great comfort: "Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors" (Matt. 6:12). This is a good thing to pray, because we all do a lot of dumb things against God, and we want/need his forgiveness for them. It would be nice, however, if we could just cut off this line halfway through. "Forgive us our debts." Because the second part makes it all a whole lot more complicated. Forgive us as we forgive others. Treat me the way I treat those who wrong me. And just so that we don't get confused, Jesus goes on to say, "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins" (6:14-15). All of a sudden, Jesus' heart-warming, comforting request turns into a challenging proposition. Somehow, there is a relationship between our practice in forgiving other people and the forgiveness of our own sins.
I've always considered myself to be pretty good at forgiving people. It's not because I'm any kind of great person. It's more because of my generally nonfluctuating emotional state. It's easy to forgive when you feel like you're not often wronged, and it's easy to not feel wronged when you don't get easily angered. (Of course, while I don't show much anger, I also don't show much excitement/glee/whatever other emotion you want to insert. I hear "You don't get angry much" and "You don't really care about much" about equally.) So when I hear others talk about how we need to be more forgiving, or when I read things like Matthew 6, it's easy for me to think, "Eh, that's stuff everyone else needs to worry about. Not me." But lately I've been thinking that maybe forgiveness is something that I (and perhaps you) need to work on a little more.
Saying you forgive someone is easy. It doesn't take much to let a few words roll of your tongue to say that you forgive another. Actually absolving the person in your mind is a little harder. Memories of the hurt caused by another have a tendency to lodge themselves in our brains, and it may take nothing short of divine assistance to be able to shake those bitter thoughts loose. The hardest part of forgiveness, however, is to live out that forgiveness through your actions and words, to demonstrate your forgiveness in your interactions with the offender, whether or not they are even present. I can tell someone I forgive them, and I could even think that I forgive them, but I could go on making resentful comments about them to others or occasionally bringing up the whole situation. And that's not forgiveness. It's petty bitterness.
People often say, "Forgive and forget." I don't know how feasible that is. I don't even think God forgets our sins. But he does forgive. He removes our sins from us "as far as the east is from the west" (Ps. 103:12). While he may not forget our sin, I don't think he constantly rehearses our trespasses in his head. When he thinks of us, he doesn't think, "There's that worm that sinned against me. What a jerk." No, he looks at us and smiles because he we are his children whom he loves. God lives out his forgiveness. It's not just lip-service. It's a reality that affects everything about our relationship with him. The enmity between us and God is erased, and we're reconciled perfectly with him.
I have trouble forgiving like that. For me, I need to pray "Forgive us our debts as I also have forgiven my debtors." But I also need to pray, "And help me forgive my debtors as you've forgiven me."