What Forgiveness Requires

forgiveLast night as I read a favorite book I use to study and meditate on the Gospels the following section kind of leapt off the page at me. The selected passage was Matthew 6:7-15, wherein Jesus teaches his disciples (and all of us) the Lord’s Prayer during his Sermon on the Mount. It struck me because of the increasing rancor expressed as partisanship (political or non-political) that we witness each day, or perhaps even participate in. I’m tired of it; a pointless waste of precious time and an exercise in futility. At this point in our history I am having a difficult time imagining our nation shaking loose from this uncorked genie bottle we’ve chained around ourselves. Yet I am fighting to remain an optimist. I’ve watched (and experienced) forgiveness as it unlocked those chains. “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”

Anyhow, here’s that passage. Note what’s required for forgiveness. I sure did.


‘Yes, if you forgive others their failings, your heavenly Father will forgive you yours; but if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive your failings either.’ – Mt. 6:14-15

Forgiveness requires humility – from both directions. Basically, humility means recognizing that you are not God, and when we refuse to forgive someone, we are forgetting precisely that. A refusal to forgive involves passing judgment on the offender. But to pass judgment on another person is to put oneself in God’s place. Only God can see the whole interior world of a human being; only God can see into the secret recesses of the human heart. And so, only God has the right to pass judgment. (This same reasoning applies to forgiving yourself; a refusal to forgive yourself comes, ultimately, from arrogance. We find it hard to forgive ourselves if we think we are so perfect that we, unlike normal human beings, are beyond the possibility of falling short, failing, or sinning – it indicates a shortage of healthy humility.)

So those who refuse to forgive are acting like God, elevating themselves above their offender. But acting like God inhibits them from recognizing their true dependence on God and their own need for his forgiveness – the throne of judgment only has enough room for one judge at a time, either oneself or God. This attitude, then, simply ousts God, shutting the door on him. And so the merciful, forgiving God is left standing outside in the cold, unable to bring us his forgiveness.

The tragedy of this dilemma is that every human soul needs to experience God’s forgiveness in order to be at peace. And so, the unforgiving person ends up destroying himself in his self-righteous attempt to destroy his neighbor.

(from the book The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer by John Bartunek, p.105.)


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