That’s the cry when we are really hurting. I suspect sometimes it means
“I can’t forgive that quite yet.”
However, sometimes it sounds more like we are working with a confused definition of forgiveness. When I hear people talking about forgiveness it often sounds like they are thinking
“Forgiveness means the wound in our relationship is healed and all the problems you caused between us are forgotten.”
That is hard to do. And if that is the definition, then the Lord’s Prayer seems to leave us with a serious problem. After all, we are to pray
“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
We are told to set up ourselves as God’s role models: we claim to have already forgiven the wrongs done to us, so please, God, forgive us in the way we have forgiven. Sticking to our proposed definition, If we can’t bring about complete healing in human relationships, we don’t ask it in our relationship with God.
Or maybe it is more that we set limits on the amount of forgiveness we are allowed to ask for: if we’ve found healing in only about half the cases where we’ve been wronged, please, God, forgive only about half of what we’ve done wrong — forgive just as we have forgiven.
Who starts the forgiving anyway? God? Or us? How can I possibly even begin if God does not first help and heal and forgive me by grace?
Kind of scary stuff when you think about it.
Complete healing is not the definition of forgiveness the Heidelberg Catechism works with, at least in its discussion of the Lord’s Prayer. It does not lay out a full definition, but its working understanding is clear and succinct in question 126, which asks what “Forgive us our debts” means in the Lord’s Prayer. Here’s the revealing bit of the answer:
“… do not hold against us … any of the sins we do …”
Forgiveness is not expressed as relational healing. Forgiveness is God letting go of his right to collect on our debts. If you’ve ever had someone write off a debt that has been hanging over you then you know that it is a wonderful thing. That is what we need from God.
And that is what we need to do for one another. Someone harms us and they owe us. We want to make them pay. We are not letting go until they do. That’s what a grudge is, right?
Honestly, though, giving up my right to make someone pay who has harmed me is not entirely easy, even if it isn’t as impossible as bringing about complete healing.
Here too Heidelberg takes a very helpful stance in its interpretation:
“Forgive us just as we are fully determined, as evidence of your grace in us, to forgive our neighbors.”
- We acknowledge that God’s grace has come first — when we forgive it is gratitude.
- We don’t claim to have fully achieved any kind of forgiveness in our human relationships.
- But we do hold ourselves accountable to try to forgive — we really can be fully determined to let go of our right to make them pay.
What do you think people mean by “forgiveness” today?
Where have you seen the power of forgiveness at work?
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