Matthew 18:34-35 “And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
Matthew 6:14 “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.”
Is unforgiveness an unforgiveable sin? It appears so, doesn’t it? If we do not forgive, neither will we be forgiven. That is serious, and scary.
Forgiving those who have sinned against us was important enough for Jesus that he included it in the prayer he taught his disciples. “Forgive us our trespasses as we have forgiven those who trespass against us.” How many times have we prayed this prayer and not really thought about what it means?
(Aside: in the same way we have prayed “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth. . .” and not realized that Jesus is talking about the kingdom of God coming to earth, not our going to heaven.)
How do I know if I have truly forgiven those who have sinned against me? What does it mean to “forgive from the heart”?
I have come to some clearer understanding of this lately. Formerly when I would counsel people about forgiveness, I would start by explaining what forgiveness is. There is a lot of misunderstanding about forgiveness. People usually think that if they forgive someone it means that what that person did doesn’t matter. This reaction may become evident when I ask someone to forgive me and that person says, “It’s OK. It doesn’t matter.” That’s wrong. It does matter. It matters to us, but more importantly it matters to God. This can also happen when I think about something that someone did to me. I could think, “Well, it doesn’t matter.”
It matters. We must examine our heart. We must remember the pain the sin against us caused. Now we are getting closer to “forgiving from the heart.”
One of the ways this is explored is to say to yourself, “I forgive so-and-so for doing such-and-such because it made me feel ___________________ you fill in the blank.
Graphic example: I forgive my uncle for sexually abusing me when I was eight years old because it made me feel dirty, defiled, and guilty.
Or less graphic: I forgive my fourth-grade school teacher for what she said about me in front of the class because it made me feel stupid and embarrassed.
We can’t just blanket everything with “I forgive everyone for ever hurting me.” That does not come from the heart.
Again, forgiving doesn’t mean that what the other person did to us was all right or that it doesn’t matter. Forgiving means that I am no longer going to let this sin against me control my life. I would tell people that only person I am hurting by not forgiving that other person is me. Your ex-husband is having a great time with his girlfriend. He doesn’t care that you have said, “I will never forgive him.” It is like taking poison, and hoping the other person dies. So I used to tell the person I was counseling to turn it over to God. He can bring retribution better to that person than you ever could! That’s what I used to say.
Recently I have learned that is not right. That is not forgiveness from the heart. Hear these words from the Bedtime Shema, a Jewish prayer to be said before going to sleep.
“Master of the universe, I hereby forgive anyone who angered or antagonized me or who sinned against me—whether against my body, my property, my honor or against anything of mine; whether he did so accidentally, willfully, carelessly or purposely; whether through speech, deed, thought, or notion; whether in this place or another place—I forgive every [person]. May no one be punished because of me.
The last sentence rocked my world. “May no one be punished because of me.” Or because of what he or she has done to me.
We have a responsibility to those who have wronged us to forgive them, for their sakes, as well as for ours. It is not a matter of turning them over to the Lord for retribution.
This illustration might help. Imagine you and the person you are forgiving are standing near the foot of the cross. You turn to the other person and invite him or her to come to the cross with you, to receive the same forgiveness that you have received.
Yeshua said to love our enemies, and pray for those who despitefully use us. Take the one who has wounded you to Yeshua. Ask him to forgive, just as he did when he said, “Father, forgive them.”