Get out the Lord’s Prayer and just try praying through it. It’s tough. It goes pretty well until you get down toward the end and get to this sticky line:
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
(Matthew 6:12 ESV)
It’s that ‘as‘ that’s the problem. Are we really supposed to ask God to forgive us in the same way that we have forgiven others? I can’t really pray that. The forgiveness I want and need from God is so different from the forgiveness I offer others.
I think the verse should read more like this:
Forgive us our debts and in the same way, help us to forgive others.
That sure sounds more ‘Gospel-centered‘. Obviously Jesus thought we might be tempted to misunderstand that part of the prayer cause He goes on to clarify in the verses that follow:
For if you forgive others, their trespasses your heavenly father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
What happened to grace? Eh, Jesus? This sounds like works.
[Here's a mini-aside that I'm going to flesh out in a blog post in the near future: I cannot make the mistake of reading the Bible through the lens of my worldview. I have to subject every part of my worldview to the Bible. Even when it's confusing and messy.]
The point of this text isn’t how crazy conditional God sounds when He speaks. The point is that forgiveness matters. God wants us to be at the point where we could ask Him to forgive us in the same way that we have forgiven others. To pray that prayer we would have to really feel comfortable with the way we forgive others.
That prayer is hard for me because I don’t want God to forgive me the way I forgive others. Here are three problems with the way I forgive:
1. My version of forgiveness is simply a lack of vulnerability. I’ve mastered forgiveness. I simply get ahead of the whole process by constantly expecting people to fail me so that I never have to be disappointed and I never have to be hurt. That makes forgiveness really easy because your heart is never mixed up in it.
I never have to forgive deep and devastating hurts because I am never vulnerable enough to be deep and devastatingly hurt.
I can’t pray for God to be that same way with me. God’s forgiveness is painful and costly because He has been vulnerable with me. He makes Himself fully known by me and He has bound His heart up with mine so much that I actually am able to hurt the God of the Universe.
Forgiveness only means much if it costs much.
2. My version of forgiveness is a neutral feeling. I measure the success of forgiveness by how much anger I have towards a person. If I ‘m not angry or bitter that means I’ve mastered forgiveness. But boy – I hope that’s not how God forgives me. The great Gospel says His forgiveness doesn’t stop with removing His wrath.
God’s forgiveness of me is so complete that He actually wants good for me. He doesn’t just feel neutrally towards me, He is crazy about me and pursues my good even at cost to Himself.
Imagine if I measured the success of forgiveness by how passionate I was to see good come to the people who wronged me?
3. My version of forgiveness involves not forgetting. Our culture is obsessed with the idea that we ‘forgive but we don’t forget’. We learn that when people fail us we should never risk ourselves to be hurt by them again.
That makes logical sense to me, but it seems so far from the forgiveness God has for His people. There is no expiration to God’s forgiveness of me. He forgets my sins and He treats me as if I had never failed Him.
I can’ t pray for God to forgive me the way I forgive others because I bank on the fact that He will always forgive and always forget – separating my sin from me as far as the East is from the West.
Maybe I’m the only one who struggles with this. Share your thoughts with me in the comments section!