“forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” – Matthew 6:12
Often I hear people say that we need to forgive others so that we can move on. “It’s not good to hold all that anger inside you,” folks will often say. “It’s like a cancer that will eat you up. Forgive them for your benefit so that you can move on.” I’ve seen plenty of people through the years that are so eaten up by anger, hurt, and un-forgiveness that at times I’m left to wonder if there’s any joy left in their life. I wonder, “is this what life is about? Hurt and anger?” And all stemming from failing at the practice of not forgiving others.
However, I’m left a bit troubled by the idea that we are to forgive for our benefit. It seems that if we forgive only to better ourselves then isn’t that selfish? Doesn’t that just make me, myself, and I the sole focus of my life? It seems to me that it might. When we become what’s most important, when our benefit matters above all else, then we’ve truly fallen into sin. Remember, Adam and Eve’s eating the fruit wasn’t to praise God, it wasn’t to benefit one another, nor was it to serve creation…it was so that they might be like God. They wanted to be God! They were self serving. So, when we seek to be self serving, like forgiving someone so that we might move on, we are simply falling back into this business of joining in on the original sin. It’s something good done for a less than good reason.
So, what of this business of forgiveness? Jesus teaches us to forgive others as we are forgiven by him. Hmm…think about that a bit. Again and again scripture tells us that we sin against God. Even the good things that we do are sins before God’s eyes! (Isaiah 64:6) Why is this? Because deep down its hard to love God and neighbor in a pure way. We do it to get something out of it…so that we can get to heaven. We use God and others for our ultimate benefit. We hear this teaching and start to shake, “Oh no, I want to get forgiven so I better forgive!” And right there we’ve done it, we’re forgiving others so that we might benefit…we’ve made ourselves number one…and not God…and that’s sin for you.
I think we get forgiveness all wrong. It’s not about score-keeping nor is it about making sure that we get what’s coming to us. It’s about being who God has made us to be. Back at the beginning of time God created us, male and female, in his image and in his likeness. We are the bearers of God’s image and likeness to the world. Think for a moment, before God made us as his image and likeness bearers he spoke of his creation calling it good. After he created us he called it very good! We are people who bear the image and likeness of God to the whole world. We have a calling to make this good world VERY good.
In our fallen sinfulness we forgot how to bear that image and likeness…we forgot how to make the world very good. For that matter, because of sin we lost that ability all together! But Jesus came to show us how to be God’s image bearers, he taught us with his life what it meant to show God’s likeness…with his death and resurrection he gave us again that lost ability to make this good creation VERY good! Think about a beautiful mosaic. lovely gems and stones making up a picture whose presence is to make a place wonderful. Now imagine those gems and stones have been all messed up, thrown into chaos. That’s us. But now Jesus has come and put us back together, rearranged our chaotic and messed up pieces to once again be a beautiful picture. We’ve been restored, recreated, forgiven. And now we’re once again called to bear that image and likeness to the world…to make the good creation very good. It’s not about doing something to get something…its not about you. Instead, it’s about being who you are, about being who God has created you to be. That makes this all about God!
So when God calls you to forgive others he’s paying you the highest compliment. We forgive because he first forgave us is a basic teaching of Scripture. So if you’re called to forgive then that means that you have been forgiven. If you’re called to forgive then you’re being asked to be who God made you to be. If you’re called to forgiven then you’re being invited to join the Lord God Almighty in the work that he does! What a blessed compliment! And all this because of one word…forgive.