Confession: Forgiveness is something I convinced myself I understood because to admit that I did not understand it would have been humiliating.
I was more than happy to accept the idea of being forgiven by YHVH for my sin. I mean, that gets me off the hook, right? So, by all means, bring on the mighty, amazing grace of Almighty Elohim! I don’t mean to be flip. His grace IS mighty and amazing, as well as eternal, unearned, and beyond human comprehension. What can I do but accept it, even though I do not understand it?
Nevertheless, my acceptance of YHVH’s grace is (way too) often easy, lazy, and self-serving. I am certainly not thinking about what His forgiveness might be costing Him. He is YHVH! He can afford it regardless, right? That’s what I am thinking without allowing myself to actually think it. I am thinking primarily about how His grace benefits me. According to ‘conventional wisdom’ (in some circles), I personally am THE reason He has done all the wondrous things He has done. But, yeah, no, of course YOU also are THE reason…
On the other hand, when I am faced with a need to forgive others, how do I behave? Unfortunately, I often (usually) take too long, and most of the time it seems I do not truly or completely forgive, which equates to an utter absence of forgiveness, by definition. Partial forgiveness is not a thing. My flesh wants to hang onto whatever slight, betrayal, offense, or damage I perceive to have been done to me or to others whom I love. And, by the way, every “bad” thing that has happened to me was someone else’s fault.
Yet I cannot escape the simple instruction Yeshua included in the prayer he gave to his disciples when they asked him to teach them how to pray. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us… 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 6:12-15)
Wait. What?! When we refuse to forgive others, YHVH’s forgiveness toward us will be withheld? That seems cold and harsh. Actually, it seems downright impossible. We think YHVH does not work that way. If He loves us, why wouldn’t He forgive us, even to the point of forgiving us for not forgiving others? Why? His Word tells us point blank that is not how He works.
Look. There is a powerful Kingdom principle operating here.
Many of us, perhaps most of us, have been taught that YHVH hears our prayers no matter what; that we can and should come to Him “just as we are”; that His grace abounds toward us despite our unworthiness. All of these statements are true – with one important condition. Yes. Condition. We must come to Him with contrite and repentant hearts, with pure motive, and with righteous intent. (Isaiah 1:15; John 9:31; Psalm 51:17)
So, we must be in a particular heart-state when we approach Almighty YHVH seeking forgiveness. We must be repentant, and we must have forgiven others for the transgressions they have committed against us. (Matthew 5:23-24) We can come to Him “just as we are”; i.e., imperfect, human, broken. But we must also come ‘clean,’ laying down our lives in true surrender, repentance, and forgiveness. We cannot come to Him in defiance and rebellion.
Once again, English leaves us wanting. “Forgive” is an okay word. We mostly have a general idea of what it means to forgive. But I believe we do not fully understand it. It feels nice to hear that we are forgiven; and it is comforting to say that we have forgiven others. What does that mean, though?
The words for “forgive” in the “original” languages, both Hebrew and Greek, mean something a lot more complete and irrevocable than our common usage of the English word “forgive.” They mean “let go,” “leave behind,” “separate oneself from,” “cover over,” “purge away,” “lifting up, carrying away.”
We often say that we can forgive but we can never forget. We even think that is acceptable and expected. After all, we are only human. Some things we just cannot forget. So we say.
Look at those definitions again. To forgive inherently includes forgetting. I concede that our flesh will try to remind us. But this is part of the action nature of the principle of forgiveness. We put it aside. We let it go. We purge it away. We forgive. We forget. We choose.
Somehow, in our English way of thinking, we cling to the idea that saying the word is enough. “I forgive you.” But the actual forgiveness does not happen at all without something happening in one’s heart and mind. It is a conscious decision. Forgiveness is not an automatic consequence of saying a combination of ‘magic’ words.
Like all principles of Kingdom life, forgiveness is a true action word.
It is substantive.
It means something.
It is Kingdom currency.