Forgiveness is the most important subject that I ever write about. I have never written a book that does not include the subject of forgiveness. I’m not surprised that a radical format for forgiveness is paramount in the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray. You can pray it so remotely that you don’t realize what you are praying, but the reality of your life requires that you learn not only to be forgiven but to forgive. You learn most fully what it means to be forgiven by none other than the act of forgiving.
Have you realized that yet? When teaching on marriage my husband says: “Forgiveness in marriage ought to come as naturally as breathing and practiced almost as often” (Dr. Brian Newman). I would add to that: Daily forgiveness through the power of Christ ought to become as naturally as breathing and practiced almost as often. Not only marriage requires forgiveness but also the simple act of driving down the block. Yes, there are degrees of forgiveness—it is a more monumental experience to forgive a rapist than to forgive a man who cut you off in traffic, but in either case the transgression becomes nothing compared to our great sins against God. That is the point of daily forgiveness that Jesus was getting to in the prayer He taught us to pray.
In The Lord’s Prayer, R. T. Kendall discusses the meaning of praying Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors:
“The word debts is translated from the Greek opheilemata, which literally means what is owed and is used interchangeably with hamartias, which means falling short or sins. This petition is actually an agreement, indeed, a covenant with God and, implicitly, with those who have sinned against you, even though the party who has offended you will have no idea you are making this agreement. The agreement is this: You agree to forgive them as you pray for your own forgiveness. Implied in this covenant is that you agree to be forgiven in proportion to the way you forgive.”
Jesus wants me to recognize how amazing God’s forgiving me is by comparing the ways that people in this world fail and hurt me to my sin against a holy God. As I help people move through authentic forgiveness in my counseling practice, I never find anyone who doesn’t accept this point when they really stop and think about it. It is as if they are almost relieved to get the focus off the offender and the pointless pain they caused in their lives. (The first step I have them work on for authentic forgiveness is to fully express their anger by being brutally honest about what the person did to them—often writing a letter of anger that they do not intend to mail). After they have sufficiently expressed the anger/rage about the sinner, I then have them look at themselves. I ask them to consider what sins they have sinned against God in response to the evil that was done to them. Everyone has been able to answer this question. Most of the sins related directly back to the sin that was done to them—how they have not loved well, or how they have not let others and God love them because of their response to the sin. In a mysterious way, this step is a relief in that it brings hope of true forgiveness.
When we forgive in our own strength, we get nowhere. John 6:63 says:
“The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life.”
Authentic forgiveness is from the Spirit. It brings life. It is a magical transformation of the soul.