In 2010, my wife’s uncle and I had a major disagreement. A falling out. Ok, an argument. I said some things, and he said some things. I did not speak with him again. He died in 2012. I never apologized to him or asked his forgiveness. I was in the hospital room with him when he died. He was comatose, but I told him at that time that I was sorry and I prayed for him.
Poet Alexander Pope penned the famous words, “To err is human; to forgive, divine.” The dictionary definition of divine is, “of, relating to, or proceeding directly from God.” So, he was saying that to forgive is an action that proceeds directly from God.
Jesus taught us how to pray. Look at His words from His sermon on the mount: “Pray, then, in this way: Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.]” (Matt. 6:9-13 NAS).
When we pray this, we are telling God to forgive us in the same way that we forgive each other. In fact, Jesus follows up with: “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” (Matt. 6:14-15 NAS). Wow. We know that God does forgive us based on the way we forgive each other. So, this is telling God that we understand this principle, and that we are prepared to abide by it.
The only real way to abide by this is to know the Father’s forgiveness. You may ask, “How is it possible to forgive in order to be forgiven, yet we must be forgiven to know how to forgive?” You have to understand that this message is given to believers. God will forgive us and bring us into His fold through salvation in Jesus Christ. Then, as believers, we know that we must forgive others in order to obtain forgiveness for any sins we commit.
Forgiveness can be a difficult topic. Many people believe that we have to “Forgive and Forget.” Is that even possible? When people tell me that, I pick up a Bible and say, “Show me a chapter and verse.” This is not a command in the Bible. People usually say that since God forgives and forgets, and we are supposed to be like Him, then we should also forgive and forget. Again, I want to see a chapter and verse. The Bible does not tell us that God forgives and forgets. Verses that people may think of are, “Then he adds, “I will never again remember their sins and lawless deeds.” (Heb. 10:17 NLT). “He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.” (Mic. 7:19 ESV).
The word translated as “Remember” in Hebrews comes from a Greek word that means, “to be recalled or to return to one’s mind, to remind one’s self of, to remember.” So, this scripture is saying that God will not bring our sins to mind. Similarly, the word forget as translated in the Bible comes from a Greek word that means to neglect. It’s not that God forgets our forgiven sins, God cannot forget anything. Instead, the act of forgiveness is the act of removing the debt from our account. After that, He chooses not to think about it anymore. Could He? Yes. He does not, because He makes the choice to neglect our sinful past and to concentrate on the present and the future. This is how we are to forgive. We are to remove the debt from someone’s account, then choose not to bring it back to mind.
The song, “Forgiveness” by Matthew West was inspired by a woman whose daughter was killed by a drunk driver. The man was sentenced to 22 years in prison. After a couple of years, the woman felt that God was reminding her that she never forgave this man. She went to the prison and forgave him. Not only that, she went to court on his behalf and saw his sentence cut in half. He was released nearly 3 years ago. As a result, he is now serving the Lord. What an example of forgiveness! Then I ask myself, could I forgive like that?
Would we allow a sex offender to worship in our churches? What if we knew he was saved, forgiven by God for his past sins? What if this man was a child sex offender, walking freely around our church? Could we forgive the way that Jesus did, or would this be too much for us to handle?
It doesn’t matter how egregious the sin may be, we have been commanded by God to forgive. No matter how bad the sin may be, no matter how much forgiveness we have handed out, God has forgiven more. As followers of God, we must be willing to forgive, but not just willing, we must forgive.