forgive just as you have been forgiven

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1 April 2010

forgive just as you have been forgiven

When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, particularly the sentence “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” we are in fact saying that we are part of God’s Kingdom. And because we are part of God’s Kingdom, we have the responsibility to bring about “your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” So what is God’s will?

I believe there are many interpretations and understandings. However, in the Lord’s Prayer, we may say that ‘Forgiveness’ is the crucial aspect of ‘Thy will be done’. Forgiveness, not only the forgiveness between God and humanity, but also between one person and another, is God’s will for us.

When we pray “your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”, we are praying for God’s forgiveness to reign on earth as it is in heaven. Such forgiveness is of the Lord and not of man; and God’s forgiveness is different from that of humanity’s. Because forgiveness is so important a theme in God’s will, Matthew, one of the disciples, made the extra effort to repeat it at the end of the Lord’s Prayer: “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Matthew said it again in Matt 6:14-15. “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.”

Matthew is NOT alone in this regard. Mark in his gospel also said the same in Mark 11:25; “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” He continued in v.26; “But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your trespasses.”

What does it mean when we fail to obtain our Father’s forgiveness? What is the outcome of not being forgiven by God? Will that lead to a loss in salvation? Will I remain unsaved?

Somebody says that unforgiveness is like cancer when we refuse to forgive; the pain, bitterness and hatred that follow will grow in us. It eats away at our lives causing stress and illness. When we are in the bondage of unforgiveness, we lose the joy of life and the source of our creativity.

Legend has it that when Leonardo Da Vinci was commissioned to paint the masterpiece, the ‘Last Supper,’ he had a violent argument with a fellow painter. Leonardo was so bitter over the incident that in taking revenge, he decided to paint the fellow painter’s face into the face of Judas. When it was done, everyone easily recognized the painter and mocked at him. Da Vinci was happy and proud of his creative act, and he continued painting the rest of the work. But when he came to paint the face of Christ, something seemed to disturb him and hold him back; he could not make any progress despite several attempts. Finally Da Vinci came to realise the root of his problem. He returned to the face of Judas and gave it a new face; no longer the face of the painter he hated. Then, Da Vinci was able to resume work on Jesus’ face with great success. Da Vinci learnt his lesson and moved beyond the bondage of unforgiveness to regain his creativity and his passion.

The answer to a lot of problems in our lives is forgiveness. If forgiveness is the answer?why would many today refuse to embrace it? In Chinese we say bitter medicine is good for illness; ????. We know that it is good. Yet, oftentimes we refuse to take it because it is bitter; hard to swallow, and we give ourselves a lot of excuses not to take it.

So what is the reason why you cannot forgive the offender? Do you feel you are the victim therefore you have the RIGHT not to forgive? Or perhaps you indeed have forgiven the person but the offender continues to annoy you and you feel enough is enough, no more forgiveness!

Jesus in Matt 18:23-35 tells us the parable of the Unmerciful Servant. He tells the story of a servant who was released from his debt to his Master because he couldn’t pay. However, this same servant refused to show the same mercy to another person who owed him money and also could not pay. When the Master found out that the servant had been unmerciful to another, he summoned him and said: “‘you wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt” (vv. 32-34).

What can we learn from this parable? Jesus is reminding us here the important lesson that those who have received mercy and forgiveness have lost the right not to forgive! In fact, Jesus’ expectation is even more. He said in v. 35: “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” We not only need to forgive, we need to forgive from our heart!

Must the offender repent and seek our forgiveness first before we can forgive? To answer this question we need to just look at the example of Jesus on the Cross. Luke 23: 33-34 said, “And when they came to the place that is called the skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’” Jesus’ prayer of forgiveness on the cross teaches us one very important lesson. If you want to forgive someone, you don’t have to wait for him / her to repent or to say ‘sorry’. In the world we don’t forgive a person until he repents or says he is sorry.

But where God is concerned; He forgives and gave His life for us while we are still sinners.

But what if the person you have forgiven continues to annoy you or hurt you? In fact, that is the question Peter asked Jesus. “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” Jesus’ answer is simply as many times as need be, indefinite, unlimited! (Matt 18: 21-22)

The fact remains; many of us struggle to forgive those who hurt us. And the reasons for our struggle may be manifold. We struggle because fundamentally it is a form of temptation. We are caught in this struggle because oftentimes we are tempted to forgive the way the world forgives and not the way God forgives. The temptation is real because the way of the world is so much easier than God’s way.

We can learn something from Joseph about forgiving (Gen 45:1-8). After being united with his brothers in Egypt, Joseph said to his brothers: “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither ploughing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.”

This passage teaches us not only the importance of reconciliation it also shows how we are able to forgive. We need to know that forgiveness doesn’t mean we forget people’s sins. Joseph didn’t forget the pain that was inflicted on him by his brothers. That is why he says in v. 4, ‘I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.’ Oftentimes we are unable to forgive because we WRONGLY think that God’s forgiveness is about ‘FORGIVE and FORGET’. Forgive and forgetting the wrong is NOT biblical, but secular and of the world. The truth is it is impossible to FORGET, and God’s forgiveness doesn’t expect us to forget.

We need also to learn that behind our pain and hurt, God is sovereign. We need to go beyond the wrong and see that God is still in-charge and His justice reigns. It is with that confidence in God that Joseph is able to say to his brothers in Gen 50: 19; “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?” Because of that same confidence, notwithstanding the hurt and pain, Joseph is able to say to his bothers in v. 20, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”

In our hurt and pain, can we see what Joseph saw? Can we have the same confidence and say the same to those who have hurt us? Do you believe God is in-charge and that God will bring out something good out of the pain?

When someone wrongs you, God will not forget. And we should remember God’s sovereignty and righteousness in our effort to forgive those who have hurt us. Joseph is able to forgive his brothers in spite of their wickedness because he understands one simple but fundamental truth: The ‘forgiveness’ between you and those who have hurt you is not first and foremost an issue between you and the people who have hurt you, but between you and God! In other words, your issue with God comes before your issue with those who have hurt you. Fundamentally, your issue with God is an issue of FAITH. It is about how you see God, know God and believe in God. Do you still believe in God when someone hurts you terribly?

Thus, forgiveness is about faith. It is about putting our faith in God in the process of hurt and the process of dealing with our hurt. I like to share with you a true story about Ravensbruck concentration camp. It is recorded by Corrie Ten Boom, in her book The Hiding Place. Ravensbruck was a Nazi concentration camp built in 1939 for women. Over 90 thousand women and children were killed there by the Nazis. Corrie Ten Boom was one of the few survivors. One day in the camp, she found a prayer in the clothing of a dead child: O Lord, remember not only the men and women of good will, but also those of ill will. But do not remember all of the suffering they have inflicted upon us: Instead remember the fruits we have borne because of this suffering, our fellowship, our loyalty to one another, our humility, our courage, our generosity, the greatness of heart that has grown from this trouble. When our persecutors come to be judged by you, let all of these fruits that we have borne be their forgiveness. What a gracious and merciful heart!

If the last sentence of the prayer is true, then forgiveness is about faith and about salvation. Like Joseph said to his brothers in Gen 50:20, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”

It is also like what Matthew said in Mat 6:14, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” Thus, forgiveness is about your salvation and the salvation of those who have hurt you. That is why Jesus teaches us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer: ‘and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.’ Amen.

Author: Revd Canon Dr Titus Chung is the priest-in-charge of the Chinese Congregation, St Andrew’s Cathedral.

First published in The Courier, April 2010.

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