Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Refusing forgiveness

Last week I wrote about some of the tough passages of the Bible. Since then I found another one. It's short; it's only two verses in length. It's also tucked away just after the Lord's Prayer so I expect it often gets overlooked. The passage is Matthew 6:14-15:
"If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins."
This, again, seems to fly in the face of what I know about God's love. If you repent your sins are dealt with.This is what I thought to be the basic principle of what Christians call grace. 1 John 1:9 summarises it like this:
"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."
These two verses seem to contradict one another, or at least the second one needs some small print. It's pretty confusing. You will be forgiven if you confess your sins (unless you have a grudge or two). So why is this?

This verse comes in a chapter where a major theme is hypocrisy. So how do these verses fit into this? Dictionary online has a helpful definition of hypocrisy, which could give us a few clues:
the practice of professing standards, beliefs, etc, contrary to one's real character or actual behaviour, esp the pretence of virtue and piety
To ask for forgiveness is to profess a belief in the need for it; however, if you refuse to forgive others that behaviour is contrary to such a standard. Asking for forgiveness is a humbling process: you are recognising how you are a flawed and sinful; you are a screw up. To say, however, that someone doesn't deserve your forgiveness is an act of pride. They have screwed up, but you are somehow better than them and to give them forgiveness is beneath you.

Sometimes, I try to imagine how God reacts when someone has refused to forgive someone else but expected forgiveness themselves. I would be outraged. I would be thinking, "How dare you suggest that what ever that person did is a more significant wrong than what you did against the God of the universe! What makes you so important or special that you can withhold forgiveness when the Creator of Everything doesn't?"

Moreover, if you can't forgive someone, you're not really taking the gift of salvation seriously. Jesus Christ had to go through hours of agony, be ritually humiliated and have his heart broken as he was separated from his Father so that you could receive the glorious gift of forgiveness. Although forgiving people can be tough, it is not going to be anywhere as tough as that. If you are amazed by the gift of salvation that you are given, if you are humbled by the thought that the God that gave everything being would send his son to die for you, if you are aware of your own brokenness and need for the transformative power of grace, then a desire to bestow forgiveness on those that have wronged you must be a natural response. So don't refuse to forgive someone or you will be refusing forgiveness for yourself.

Quick Questions
  1. What pet peeves do you have that you really struggle to forgive?
  2. What passages of the Bible do you struggle with?

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