“So we too will sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us” (Explanation to the Fifth Petition, Small Catechism)..
Have you ever been unforgiven? Has it happened to you that you knew you had wronged someone, you went to them and apologized, and were not forgiven?
I’ve learned over the years that unforgiveness can often sound like forgiveness. “That’s OK. I accept your apology” sounds a lot better than it actually is. I’ve learned that many will accept an apology for as long as it is convenient and then they will find a new allegation or just go back to judging.
The biggest problem with unforgiveness is the fact that it is easy. It is way too easy. Do you want the easy way out? Just don’t forgive. Forgiveness is not some pie-in-the-sky, easy-peasy, thing. Those who judge Christianity as preaching an easy doctrine of forgiveness just simply do not get it. God’s forgiveness of you came at a price greater than all the gold in Fort Knox. Christ’s “holy, precious blood and His innocent suffering and death” [Small Catechism, Explanation to the 2nd Article]. Try to put a dollar figure on that cost. It can’t be done.
But even if someone wanted to continue to judge Christians as having a doctrine of easy forgiveness, just try forgiving someone who has sinned against you. It is the hardest thing in the world to do. When Christians pray “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” it would seem they probably don’t really think about the depth of this petition. How many Sundays do we pray this in the Divine Service while still nursing our petty, pride-filled grudges against someone? It’s easy to say the petition. It’s even easier to fail it’s high standard. Like I wrote above, unforgiveness is the easiest business in the world.
Over the years, I’ve pastored many a person who was nursing such a grudge. Occasionally they are even nursing it against me, either for something I actually did or for nothing at all. Regardless of whomever it is they won’t forgive, I always notice the same thing:
This failure to forgive has made them absolutely miserable. They are grumpy, angry, selfish, and hopeless. Every time. It never fails.
This hopelessness proves the deadly seriousness which Christ demonstrates in His teaching. When He taught the Lord’s Prayer in Matt. 6, He wheeled back around to the Fifth Petition as if to say, “You heard me right! I DID say that you should forgive others.” 14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. Serious! To leave someone else unforgiven is to be unforgiven by God. The ticket to heaven, forgiveness, is gone missing.
Jesus repeats the same teaching in Matt. 18:15ff. when He sums up the Parable Of The Unmerciful Servant with the words, 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” [The unmerciful servant was thrown in jail (hell) by the King for not forgiving the small debt of another servant].
No wonder such grumpy types are so miserable! They wind up wallowing in a mud puddle of their own making. All because they would not forgive. Do I need to point out how sad this is?
It makes you rethink the whole business of forgiving those who sin against you. A couple of important points are beneficial to make here.
- Peace with God brings peace with your brother/sister. No forgiveness. No peace. Know forgiveness. Know peace.
- The person you won’t forgive is still a person for whom Jesus died. If He died for your sins, then forgiveness is the business of seeing others through the prism of the crucifix of Christ. Forgiving others is only tough because we make it so (sinful pride). If Christ loves them, so should we.
- In forgiveness, we do not forget sins. We learn to leave them behind and view the other person differently, without all the anger and hatred that make our lives so miserable.
In Lent, we talk about spiritual disciplines. One such discipline is reconciliation. Go! Forgive the person who has sinned against you. Especially if they have already apologized. If you said, “I accept your apology,” go and apologize to them and say it rightly:
I forgive you.
And if I have ever sinned against you, I hope you will do the same for me that we BOTH might have peace and all the other fruits of the Spirit.