It was C.S. Lewis who said “everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive”.
This subject goes deeper than the intellect affecting you physically, mentally, emotionally, relationally and of course spiritually. The absence of forgiveness is a Christmas spoiler, a home wrecker, an enemy maker and life destroyer.
It is an essential ingredient to life that we all need but find so hard to give.
When Jesus was asked to teach people how to pray, he could have suggested thousands of things to pray for but he taught some simple requests essential to everything in life and for 2000 years people have been praying: “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”
Why? Because forgiveness is crucial for life and health and relationships.
That little line in the Lord’s Prayer says a whole lot. It acknowledges that forgiveness is necessary because people do things that spoil relationship with God and each other – we sin.
“Forgive us our sins” makes clear we need forgiveness from God while “forgiving those who sin against us” makes clear we need to do it and others need forgiveness from us.
It is true to say that forgiveness sets people free on all sides of the forgiveness equation. The head of one hospital said “I could dismiss half my patients tomorrow if they could be assured of forgiveness”.
Sadly, we live in an age where people often feel no guilt or shame about sin and there is no more light in that darkness than in guilt.
Guilt is a very dark place to live in. It keeps people apart and stops people coming home for Christmas. It makes us frightened of the outcomes of our actions and fearful of those we have hurt and the vengeance that might follow.
We become insecure as to our relationships, we hold back and perhaps even hide because of shame. Jesus taught such people to pray “Father forgive us our sins”.
Sadly, we live in an age where people often feel no guilt or shame about sin and there is no more light in that darkness than in guilt. The tragedy for such people is they are blind to the hurt they cause and no one wants them home for Christmas. Jesus taught such people to pray “Father forgive us our sins”.
One group needs to know they can be forgiven while the other group needs to know they need to be forgiven. The light in the darkness for both is that in this little prayer request, “Forgive us our sins”, Jesus expected God the Father would listen and answer.
Everyone knows of course that you can’t seek forgiveness and just keep on doing the same things over and over. It is the common critique of the world that some people go to church on Sunday like angels and leave to live like devils the rest of the week.
Of course, everyone knows you don’t have to go to church to live like a devil all week.
Seeking forgiveness implies you know that you have hurt a relationship, that you are sorry and that you can only hope the love of the one you have hurt will be happy to reconcile. True forgiveness is asked for and given from the context of the heart that loves.
As such, the recipient of forgiveness is overwhelmed by the love of the forgiver and seeks to return such love in thankfulness and not in further sins.
Of course, forgiveness costs the guilty nothing but it is never cheap for the forgiver. The forgiver must find it in their heart to cover the cost.
The one who taught us to pray, “Father forgive us” was God’s answer to the prayer. Jesus paid the price of human sin, signed the deed of release in his own blood and announced to the world that we are welcome to come home to God for Christmas.
That’s another prayer of mine… that you would come home to Jesus Christ this Christmas
Rick Lewers, Bishop Armidale Anglican Diocese