Wednesday, 08 December 2021

You can’t be forgiven if you don’t forgive

THE need to forgive and be forgiven is not an optional extra for the very religious, but a

THE need to forgive and be forgiven is not an optional extra for the very religious, but a fundamental need of every man.

Who among us can look back over his/her life and not shudder at some of the things that had been said, thought or done, and others left undone that needed doing?

Conversely, of the hurts others have inflicted on us, often motivated by envy, jealousy or greed. Such things leave in our lives a legacy of resentment, anger and even hatred.

So I find I have at one and the same time a need to be forgiven and a need to forgive. We are so made that we cannot have one without the other. Yet we try. The desire for my past to be wiped out is strong, the willingness to forgive less so! But it doesn’t work. To forgive and to be forgiven are two sides of the same coin, I can have both or neither.

This linking of the two runs through scripture like a golden thread. Jesus used parables to illustrate this as in the steward who owed the king a large sum and was in his turn owed a much smaller one. He sought forgiveness of his own debt but refused the same to his own debtor. He failed.

In the prayer most of us know, the Lord’s Prayer, we ask for forgiveness, “forgive us our trespasses”, but the forgiveness we seek is conditional, “as we forgive those who trespass against us”.

After giving that prayer Jesus underlined just one of its petitions when he said: “If you forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:15). That he went on to emphasise this indicated its importance.

There is a tremendous sense of freedom that flows from forgiving and being forgiven. Paul spoke of “forgetting those things which are behind and being set free from the past” and Paul certainly had a past that he needed to forget and from which to be set free.

But this is a power that is open to all. It is life-changing. You no longer have to cross to the other side of the street when you see that person who hurt you approaching. With forgiveness a great weight falls away.

The question arises, how often, to what extent, should I forgive. Jesus put this very question to his disciples. Peter, no doubt thinking he was going the second mile, said seven times.

Jesus said 70 times seven, in other words without limit. The disciples were stunned. But that freedom which comes with forgiving can only be maintained where forgiveness knows no limit. But then we want our own forgiveness to be without limit!

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