Friday, June 27, 2008

"As We Forgive Our Debtors"

Many Christian virtues are easy to commend until the time comes to practice them. Patience is one of the top contenders. Generosity is another. The ability to cope with tragedy is a third--compare C. S. Lewis's matter-of-fact approach in The Problem of Pain with his reaction to personal pain in A Grief Observed.

Lewis also wrote, referring to another easier-in-theory virtue: "Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive." The sins committed against us personally always seem to be the worst sins in the world. A grudge can easily become a best friend--there are people who, twenty years after some trivial offense, can still be counted on to complain about the matter during the first five minutes of any conversation on any topic.

Whether the actual "crime" is small or horrendous, the reason we find it so hard to forgive is usually that we ourselves are harboring some degree of the worst sin of all--pride. We all want to believe we are too important to be hurt or inconvenienced. So when others disprove that notion, we hate them for it.

While in cases of serious hurt we may not sin by being angry--even with God--for a time, our broken hearts can all too quickly become hard ones. Once "I don't see how I can ever forgive" crosses the line into "I refuse even to try to forgive," we are on the way to becoming like the servant who, in Matthew 18:21-35, forgot how much he himself had been forgiven as soon as he remembered that someone still owed him.

The best cure for "I will not forgive" is to stop and take a good look at Jesus on the Cross: the one Person Who truly never deserved to have anything bad happen to Him, battered, despised, taunted--yet praying, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34, NIV). Who are we, by comparison, to say we are too important to forgive?

Especially when we were among the ones He prayed for. Every angry thought we ever entertained, every selfish act we ever thoughtlessly committed, helped put Him on that Cross.

If you would accept the forgiveness God offers,
But still have Him punish the ones who wrong you,
Your heart is too proud to be cleansed in completeness;
Your soul is too selfish for peace to be true.

The one who's forgiven of millions of dollars,
Then stops to demand that a thousand be paid,
Will forge his own prison of bitter resentment,
And lock himself in with a key he has made.

Our Christ, Who was sinless, forgave those who hurt Him;
Our God, Who is pure, offers cleansing to all.
Who are you, to claim to forgive is beneath you?
Beware of the pride that precedes a great fall!

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