One of the most frightening moments for me as a parent was to have brown snake come between my son and me. He could not get to me and I could not get to him. Fortunately, father and son had learnt not to run from the snake but to stay still and deal with it. After thirty years of ministering to people I am glad that it was only a brown snake between my son and me. That may sound strange but the snake was just passing through. Anger, resentment, bitterness and hatreds don’t just pass through and people often run sending the venom coursing through their existence. The poison, unlike that of the Brown, is a slow working toxin that destroys people over time and the only antivenin is in the peace of forgiveness.
It is no surprise that in the “Lord’s Prayer” Jesus Christ taught people to pray that both sides of forgiveness be prioritised. By both sides I mean the need to be forgiven and the need to forgive. The prayer asks “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” You may be more familiar with the words “forgive us our sins / trespasses as we forgive those who sin / trespass against us.” Both are ok because in truth sin always leaves a debt.
One of the problems for forgiveness is that sin is required. If there is no sin then there is nothing to forgive, no debt to be paid. In my experience none of us are immune to the sin of others and it doesn’t take much maturity to know we are personally guilty of it ourselves. We can be perpetrators and victims at the same time. John MacCarthur Jr. writes, "Sin is the degenerative power in the human stream that makes a person susceptible to disease, illness, death and hell. Sin is the culprit in every broken marriage, every disrupted home, every shattered friendship, every argument, every pain, every sorrow, every anguish and every death." It’s not surprising that Jesus teaches people as perpetrators to ask God for forgiveness and as victims to offer it to others.
Psychiatrist William Sadler said "A clear conscience is the greatest step toward barricading the mind against neuroticism." John Stott in his book, "Confess Your Sins", quotes the head of a large British hospital, "I could dismiss half my patients tomorrow if they could be assured of forgiveness." I would add that other patients could be dismissed if they could only offer forgiveness. Resentment, bitterness and hatred always does more damage to the resentful, bitter and hateful than it does to their object. Irrespective of the response to the offer of forgiveness, the forgiver is set free, no longer a victim of a debt that may never be paid.
I know of no harder subject to address than forgiveness. The sexular society has no trouble talking sex, the “me” generation loves to talk identity, the materialist quickly engages on the Banking Royal Commission while the secularist’s faithless reaction to religion is considered newsworthy. But try and engage people about their need to be forgiven or to offer forgiveness and they’ll retreat into their shells quicker than any crab alive. Perhaps the hardness of the subject speaks to how hard forgiveness is to receive and how hard it is to give. Jesus Christ had to lay down his life to offer us the life that only forgiveness can give and the Lord’s Prayer asks us to do the same for those who need our forgiveness.
I know of no more precious and life giving privilege than to be forgiven or to offer forgiveness. It is transforming and restorative. For us personally, the Bible says that God blots out your transgressions, forgives wickedness, remembers our sin no more, pardons, does not stay angry but shows mercy in compassion while cancelling our debt. That says a lot about the love of God to remove barriers between Him and us. But what about our capacity to love one another sufficiently to remove barriers between ourselves? Perhaps we should ask for our own forgiveness and the power to forgive when asking God to give us our daily bread. Heaven knows we need it!