Forgiveness Is a Serious Thing, and We’re Well Advised to Never Withhold It
You’re probably familiar with the Lord’s prayer, sometimes informally called by its opening line as the Our Father. It’s a well-known passage in the Bible and many Christian traditions recite it as part of their Sunday worship service.
Growing up in a church that prayed this prayer in unison every Sunday, I quickly memorized it and could mumble it by rote, without thinking about the words I said. I suspect I knew the Lord’s Prayer before I could count or say the alphabet.
Now, however, I seriously consider the words I say when I quote this prayer. One line alarms me. In fact, it fills me with fear. It’s dangerous, eternally so.
What is this dangerous line?
It says, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). Some translations of the Bible use the word sins, as in “forgive us our sins.” Others use the word trespasses or wrongs. But most say debts.
In this prayer, we’re asking God to forgive us. What’s wrong with that?
Yes, this is true. In this common prayer, we ask God to forgive us. But we’re also asking him to place limits on the extent to which he can forgive us.
Read it again. Read it carefully.
Check out how God’s Word Translation (GW) renders this line: “Forgive us as we forgive others.”
Don’t Withhold Forgiveness
We’re asking God to forgive us to the degree that we forgive others. This implies that if we withhold forgiveness from other people, we’re letting God know that he can withhold forgiveness from us. So, if we forgive other people 75 percent of the time, we’re asking God to forgive us 75 percent of the time too.
This thought makes me tremble. My spirit quakes in trepidation.
It also encourages me to forgive quickly and to forgive fully.
Though I want to believe that God won’t do what this prayer requests of him and thereby withhold forgiveness of us in proportion to our unforgiveness of others, I do wonder.
Forgive Seventy Times Seven
When Jesus tells Peter that we should forgive others, not just a generous seven times, but seventy times seven (literally 490 times), we get a sense that God’s forgiveness of us extends without limit.
But after Jesus tells Peter to not stop forgiving, Jesus launches into a parable about unforgiveness. In this story, the man who refuses to forgive his debtors is given over to torture until he can repay his debt.
Jesus ends this parable with a stern warning: if we don’t sincerely forgive others, God will punish us in the same way.
That’s why I strive to never hold grudges and to fully forgive people as quickly as possible.
If we don’t forgive others, our future might be at risk.
Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices.