I have been pondering the format to discuss the application of “Forgive us our sins in the same manner that we forgive those who sin against us.” I’m not sure which translation that is, just that those are the words I memorized as a child.
This ignored teaching, the simple words we repeat every day and profane every hour, makes me so very… very tired.
I am a sinner, a bad guy. I have sinned against others, and they have “forgiven” me. Praying for them, I get so very worn down. The fruit of their forgiveness makes regular prayer for them feel like lifting spiritual weights.
Because prayers for them feel like benching my bodyweight in thousand-rep sets. Folks, I am not a dainty monk…
Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Please, Lord, don’t listen to this prayer from MJ (not what he is called). Respond to his prayers, and do not pretend that he does not exist (this is called forgiveness in the American churches where John grew up) until he ceases to exist. If you forget to ever think about him, he will worse than die. He will cease to be. Forgive him differently, in your grace, than he does without your grace.
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Lord, let there be an exception. If you kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand, but with you there is forgiveness, therefore you are feared. LORD PLEASE, let the forgive-you-like-your-dead-until-you-are be just another sin swept away by the blood of Jesus.
But then the fear rises in my heart, for it is the very Jesus whose blood washes away our sins who says that without forgiveness there is no forgiveness.
But what does that MEAN… Lord please… Let me be wrong. Let me understand it wrong. Or, if I’m right let there be an exception, extend a little extra grace, bend the rules a little, extend the red carpet a little further for someone I love…
And the Words keep pressing in on me as I pray.
For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.
No, Lord, please do not do this! Let this be true, as your Word is true, but do not deal with those who forgive me as they forgive me. Do not say to the ones that I love, “I forgive you and I see no reason why I should have anything to do with you.” For therein lies the loss of love, and the loss of the loved one, lets the gentle abandonment erode their position in Christ until they stand there no more. Do not say to them, “I never think about you.” But think about them, consider them, support them, console them, fill their lives with joys, pleasures, blessings, and truth. Do not, please not, apply this to those who forgive me.
Do not let them stand, with all their lives at their feet in repentance, say “Thank you” and slam the door to heaven in their face. Do not say, “I do not know you” as has been said to me, because if you do so… I know the door with that phrase on a signpost. It chases this phrase through my head with extra weight.
Do not define them and treat them according to what you have forgiven, lest they be lost. Make an exception. Please make an exception to this as well.
Do not judge those who say, “I forgive you, go away I never want to see you again.” by their own measure, please another exception because that’s the language you use condemning people to hell.
And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”
Lord, you tell me not to judge another man’s servant, for it is between his own master if he stands or falls, and you are able to make him stand (Romans 14:4) though their actions seem to condemn, undermine, you can make them stand. Please, Lord make them stand!
“I forgive you, but there is nothing for you here.” No, Lord, let there be everything there in heaven for them, and in life now for them… Though they hate the site of me and presence of me in forgiveness, by your grace save them and not by their deeds.
But in truth, my prayers feel so heavy, because I am so constantly praying in fear for those whom I have wronged, who learned forgiveness at the feet of the church in America that takes hard passages and re-defines them until they no longer matter.
But they ring in my ears. I watch people whose forgiveness bears all the fruit of bitter hatred take communion and I fear and pray for them.
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. -1 Corinthians 11:27-31
And there is the crux of it, the true and heavy weight of it.
Because as I pray for those who skip merrily by the words of Christ, pray for them to be exceptions to the rules, I cringe because maybe even that prayer is not loving.
And the hurt and pain of being forgiven American-style drives a whole lot of anger as well. Anger is the child of fear and pain.
Part of me wants to see them reap their measure.
“I forgive you, but do not speak to me again.” And God turns a deaf ear to prayer and entreaty.
“I forgive you, but I want you do depart from me.” And God gives a taste of the very definition of hell.
“I forgive you, but you will always be defined by your sin.” Sorry, I still shudder on this one.
And it is hard for me, and I start to be afraid for my own soul, because God can use harsh discipline to teach (the Greek verb in Hebrews 12 for this is to flog with what we would call a cat-o-nine-tails).
And then it comes to fear. Fear for myself, because my sinful anger does not always just want them disciplined for their own good (as God does) but also for the hurt they cause me in the betrayal of the Gospel, though every hurt that has been done to me has been paid for on the cross.
And there is fear for my forgivers, because the actions they take are the actions of hatred, of judgment and condemnation: Exile. Shunning. Silence. Disfellowship. These are criminal punishments in various legal codes. These are judgments.
You can tell a tree by its fruit, and these fruits are not distinguishable from hatred. In fact the film Rob Roy, well-written and beautifully acted, puts them in the mouths of a vengeful wife. “I will think of you as dead until my husband makes you so, and then I will think of you no more.”
Even the pagans know that these are the words of hatred and death. Small wonder they cry hypocrite when they see “Christian love”.
And hatred, the hatred that tempts me to go beyond praying for the well-being of those who hurt me (and you can’t even do that to people you don’t even think about) tempts me to my own destruction. But this passage in the Lord’s Prayer weighs so heavy on me, and my prayers for my “forgivers” are so desperate because of the last most frightening verse that comes to mind.
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. -1 John 4:18-21
I fear for my own salvation when I do not love my brother, and you know, when Jesus talks about sin and forgiveness, on both sides, he uses the same phrase for the goal “You have won your brother”. His commandment to the wrongdoer in the sermon on the mount is to go be reconciled to the person you have wronged. His commandment for those who have a brother sin against you on the sermon on the mount is to correct them, with the reward “you have won your brother”. The entire book of Philemon is a commandment on forgiveness where the wrongdoer (who had earned the death penalty in Roman law) is to be forgiven, taken back, and that he would then be a useful blessing to the church. When the church in Corinth had to kick out what modern Americans would term an unrepentant sex offender (yeah, incest is on that list) until he repented, then Paul commanded them to take him back AND reaffirm their love for him, because otherwise Satan was going to wipe the guy out.
Sure, I know every reader will say “good” let those pieces of shit get wiped out by Satan, that is what they deserve.
But folks I picked that extreme example (could have gone with David’s rape (by modern definitions ’cause you don’t say no to the king) of his best friend’s wife and murder of his best friend to cover it up) on purpose.
This passage, this teaching, this message of scripture feels like a million tons of bricks to me. It is the counterweight that drives hours of desperate and painful prayer, sometimes hours each day not because I’m super holy but because I am super worried about myself and others.
How can I even think about the forgiveness of such terrible things? Well, David and Bathsheba must have reconciled, because = Solomon was not the child of that first terrible affair.
But Jesus does not just hold out the stick of terrible judgement. He holds out an example of radical blessing and joy on the other hand.
We are to love as God loved us. God loved us so much that he chased us, his mortal enemies, down to earth and would rather be tortured to death slowly than to lose our presence in his life.
Jesus teaches us that the more someone is forgiven, the more that they love (Luke 7:36-50 is too long to retype before work). So the harder it is to forgive someone, then greater the reward within this relationship too. (Um, this is what makes long-term relationships work, marriage in particular. You will constantly fall short and hurt one another, and as you forgive and reconcile as opposed to forgive, divorce, and hate forever, one another you tie your souls together over a lifetime of growing and abiding love. Does that ever mean you’ll stop screwing up and hurting your spouse? My folks haven’t hit that point and they’re pushing 90 and 80 years old, but they love one another on the other side of so much. There is an abiding security that I see there because they both know without a doubt that there is nothing that they could do, no way that they could fail that would dispel the love of the other for them.)
So we have God’s benefit to us, because this is how he loved us. We have God’s benefit to us because this terrible, impossible teaching that forgiveness = reconciliation and love turns out to be a secret code to cause others to love you all the more. We finally have the teaching that this is the secret code to glorify God in the eyes of non-believers in ways that our praise and worship bands’ most amazing power chords can never do.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. -John 13:34-35
There is everything I have wanted to say wrapped up in Jesus’ new commandment. First, to love as Christ loved us. There is no shunning, no silence, and nothing in that love but a great and terrible pursuit of the wrongdoer (us) by the wronged (God), with the explicit goal to love and live together in love. And when we love in the way Christ loved, instead of just the way pagans love, it will be the defining mark by which the world will identify us as Christians.
Circles, circles, circles. Those who treat my repentance with hatred (and call it forgiveness or love to make it worse) sin against me. And what am I to do? When I wrong someone Christ commands me to go be reconciled with them, in the Sermon on the Mount. When he commands me to love as he loved me he commands me to pursue my enemies not to destroy them but to adopt them. And just like Christ the alternative to this path is destruction with/by Satan (2 Corinthians 2:5-11).
There is a unity here, and at the other side of a lot of thoughts, pains that torture prayers out of me hours every day (this is my big issue in the spirit right now can you tell?)
It is 180 degrees off of the world’s way. Bad guys are supposed to just die, or get killed, or go away forever. Instead Christ commands bad guys to come forward, to repent, to pursue love and relationship with those they have wronged.
Folks: We Are The Bad Guys (Romans 3:23) or we are lying to ourselves and calling God a liar (1 John 1:8-10).
But the more honest I am about how much I deserve to be on that Cross, the more grateful and loving I am to God who took it for me. The more I love and thank God, the more I have the power to forgive, seek forgiveness, and love my fellow humans. The more I forgive, repent, and reconcile, the more love they have for me. The more we love one another, the more the world sees Christ.
This teaching is so very hard, so very contrary to my selfish desires and the standards of this world.
It is the best.