“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 6:14-15 NRS).
Each generation has its cultural super villan. For my parents’ generation, it was Adolf Hitler. For mine, Saddam Hussein. For my sister’s, perhaps Osama bin Laden. All three were men who perpetuated great evil upon masses of people, causing incredible numbers of human deaths that equate to murder. Yet they are not irredeemable. Sure, our culture and political propaganda would say otherwise, but Christ came to bring grace and salvation to all people, even those we cannot fathom for the breadth of their sin. Can we forgive the likes of these three men? We should try, because God declares that God will hold our standard of forgiving others to us. Consider that for a moment. Each time I deny someone my forgiveness, my grace for whatever reason, God will use that standard for me. The difference is that I want to be forgiven for everything, anything I do. So I cannot practice anything but total and complete grace for one who seeks my forgiveness and to be reconciled to me.
When I teach Confirmation to the youth of my church, I ask them if there is anything we can do that is unforgivable. They usually say no. When I ask them if there is anyone who is unforgivable, there is more pause and discussion, because they are aware of the portrayal of certain people in our media. They know that people are described as being “pure evil.” That would be judgment, brothers and sisters. We are not granted that liberty, for it belongs to the Lord alone. Our duty as those who have been the beneficiaries of grace and the truth of salvation in Jesus Christ is to pass it along, doing likewise for all those in the sphere of our lives. We are called upon to model radical grace born of God’s transformative and redemptive love for all people everywhere. Our forgiveness directs others back to God who first forgave us. It is testimony, and even divine encounter through human vessels. To withhold such blessing, to restrain our grace is to truncate the outpouring of God through us. We have no such right. Jesus tells us repeatedly, almost constantly in Scripture to love not only God, but others: our neighbors, our enemies, and even the stranger we do not yet know. To fully love is to forgive when someone says they are sorry, and entrust the healing of the Holy Spirit to work within them, us, and between us both. We do not have to bother with whether or not they are genuinely sorry. That is a human construct that we have created to give us an out from granting grace, but God gives us no such right in the Bible:
Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”
Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times”
(Matthew 18:21-22 NRS).
Keep forgiving every time they say they are sorry, because we keep sinning, and often times the very same sin we confessed and repented of previously. We often fall prey to the exact same sinful inclination over and over again, so why would we expect another person to be any different? Forgive as you wish to be forgiven. Love as you desire God to love you. Let nothing come between you and granting grace, so that nothing will stand between you and God’s grace on Judgment Day. We have been freed from the burden of testing true repentance. That tremendous task is the Lord’s, the only one qualified to do it anyway. So cherish the liberty you have from sin and judgment. You have been set free from sin to love and to do so abundantly. How can we truly say we love if we refuse to forgive those who ask for such grace?
Grant me grace for the times when I have failed to do so myself.
Help me to move beyond my hurt,
And embrace the blessing of reconciliation.
I want to model you in my life.
I desire to shine forth the glory of your limitless love.
Only with your power and strength can I accomplish this,
And I must so that all people will discover the love I have in you.