What does it mean to forgive as God? What does it mean to forgive as man? To forgive as God, God said it was necessary for God to become man. Forgiveness insisted that God shed His own blood. To forgive as God is a perfect and eternal action that results in perceptible and mysterious outcomes. Walter Wangerin (As for Me and My House) calls forgiveness a divine absurdity. Forgiveness is the intention of the Lenten journey. How can we conceive of what it means to forgive as God?
Evidentially, it is to forgive as man. God says it was necessary for man to forgive in the same manner as God. In Matthew 6:12 Jesus says,
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. He goes on to explain: For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins (Matthew 6:14-15).
God forgives as God and asks me to most fully receive my forgiveness when I forgive in the same manner as He forgave. Forgiveness insisted that I fully receive the forgiveness of God by forgiving all who offend me on earth. In this view, real forgiveness requires a figurative shedding of blood on my part as I release all my human instincts for vengeance against the wrongs that others commit against me. This is not possible in my humanity. I must receive God’s forgiveness in order to give forgiveness. Jesus made it distinct in Mark 11:25-26:
And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.
I don’t want to forgive in an effort to protect myself. I instinctively believe that if I could get payback, right all injustices and cause my offenders to experience pain that I will be better off. Even if I don’t pursue payback, the least I can do is to use my anger to keep the offender away from my soul through avoidance or never forgetting what they have done to me. God knows that as long as I remain in that state of mind, I have not truly reflected on what His forgiveness means. God is not a tit-for-tat God. He is not keeping score when it comes to forgiveness. Rather He is inviting me to the beauty of true forgiveness. I don’t fully receive the forgiveness of God until I am experiencing the forgiveness of man. St. John Chrysostom (Homilies on the Gospel of St. Matthew) says: “Nothing makes us so God-like as our willingness to forgive.”
Being forgiven by God as man so transforms our souls that we are released from our human limitations. As St. Augustine wrote in Confessions: “There is no sin or crime committed by another which I myself am not capable of committing through my weakness; and if I have not committed it, it is because God, in his mercy, has not allowed me to and has preserved me in good.”
My long list of sins that I focus on this Lenten season will aid me in receiving my forgiveness most fully by reminding me that no matter how horrific the sins that others commit against me, they are nothing compared to my sins against God. When others sin against me, I forgive as I think about what God has forgiven in me.