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The Work of Forgiveness

January 21, 2009

Forgiveness is hard and at times difficult work.  I know we often have occasion to say we’re sorry and in those times we usually mean “I didn’t mean what I said” or “I didn’t mean to do that.”  In those moments we realize that we have said or done something that impacts another person.  Usually these occurrences are quickly resolved through the give and take of conversation and understanding.

I am not talking about forgiveness in those situations.  I am talking about forgiving when we have a right to not forgive.  We have been wounded, we have been hurt, something has taken place that affects who we are as people, as individuals, as ones made in God’s image.  Sometimes, not always this comes through someone in a position of influence or power — more than you have.  And by the choices or decisions rendered you know it.  The need for forgiveness reveals that it is personal.

But it isn’t always easy to detect that we need to forgive or even that something has happened to alter the inner landscape.  I think we often feel that what has happened to us is something that we deserve or that we have caused or something that we have left undone.  Sometimes we realize that it is not an individual that we have to forgive but a culmination of somethings and someones.  Perhaps even unrelated, perhaps not, but the cumulative effect feels like a weight you cannot lift.

We do not want to forgive because we do not know how to forgive and stand up for ourselves at the same time.  And I mean standing up for ourselves because we are created in the image of God and we are persons of worth.  Is it possible to forgive and yet to stand?  Or to put it another way — can I forgive those that have wounded and hurt me, hindered me, perhaps without even knowing it, perhaps because they didn’t know any better and not be a jerk about it?

Why does it matter?

It matters because it matters to Christ.  Because when I pay attention to what I pray I realize that forgiveness received is contingent on forgiveness extended.  That is why it is hard.  I have to let go of something.  Here’s why…

Matthew records Jesus’ instructions on how to pray in Matthew 6:12, 14-15.  It seems to be right in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount.  Verse 12: “And forgive us our debts (other translations put it — our trespasses, our sins) as we forgive our debtors (those that trespass against us, those that sin against us).  The section continues with Jesus saying, “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.” I am grateful that He did not put a timetable on it.  I think God knows that for us forgiveness can be a process.  But Christ does not cut us any slack either.  Forgiveness is not cheap. Jesus also tells us that when we are praying and we realize that our brother (or our sister) has something against us that we are to go to that one and be reconciled.

I am realizing that our (my) failure to forgive affects God’s shalom in my life.  God as creator knows how we are made and how we function.  When unforgiveness is present and given room in my life (because I refuse to acknowledge its presence) it affects me.

I’ll continue tomorrow… Shalom.

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