Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Is Forgiveness Conditional?

Photo Credit:
I had planned to do a long series on forgiveness during Lent, but am only getting started on it now--and I'm not sure how many posts- it will be.  I hope you will forgive me.  Ironically, one person who I know was excited about this series gave up social media for Lent, so she probably won't even see the posts.

Forgiveness is a key word or concept in Christianity.  Ask almost any Christian and he or she will tell you that because of Jesus' death on the cross, our sins are forgiven.  God forgives  me.  Jesus forgives me.  I am forgiven.  But what do you notice about those phrases?  They are all about me, me, me.

Is that the way it is supposed to be?  Is it really all about me being forgiven?

Because I grew up in church, and grew up in churches that said the Lord's Prayer weekly.  This is the version that is embedded in me.

Our Father, Who art in heaven
Hallowed be Thy Name;
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil. Amen.

The prayer can be found in Jesus' "Sermon on the Mount" in Matthew 6:9-13.  In this sermon, Jesus lays out the type of life his followers are supposed to live in the Kingdom that he is bringing.  Look at the two lines that I highlighted.  Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.  In this prayer, we are praying about forgiveness in such a way that it is not just about any of us as individuals.  It is about how we forgive others.  And look what it says afterwards, in verses 14-15:
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. 
And, not only should we think about how we individually forgive others, but if we realize that Jesus is talking to a group of people, we also should ask ourselves how we forgive others as a group.  Do Christians as a group forgive non-Christians for what we may deem offensive?  Or do we fight against any and every offense?

I'm not sure I can remember hearing any Christians talk about our forgiveness being conditional.  In fact, usually what we hear is how unconditional it is.

So what do we do with some verses that say just the opposite?

According to N.T. Wright in his commentary Matthew For Everyone, what this is saying is that "The heart that will not open to forgive others will remain closed when God's own forgiveness is offered" (page 60).  In other words, in order for us to understand and accept God's forgiveness, we must practice it too.  And that means getting hurt.  That means getting offended.  That means we must pick up those broken pieces of pain and hurt and anger and turn them around.  We must live as kingdom people, forgiving others who hurt us individually or a group, whether or not they ask for it.

Do you have someone that you need to forgive?  What steps can you take today to start this process of forgiveness and healing?


Kelly J Youngblood said...

Testing comment section because I have been messing around with my template.

Jim Fisher said...

I absolutely love NTW's interpretation of that passage. It's not that the Father will not forgive me in His heart, but that I won't be able to hear His voice when I ask and He responds. I have a pivotal role in this forgiveness thing ... to listen and hear what is spoken into my heart. And if my heart is closed to forgiving others ... yup. I get it. Now.

Tia Dye said...

My blog touched on forgiveness a couple weeks ago too. I agree with you, that we need to remember to turn the forgiveness around... unconditionally.

Kelly J Youngblood said...

Glad it helped! I know it helped me.

Kelly J Youngblood said...

Cool. Would you share the link to your post with me?