What if I told you that God forgives in the same way as you do?
Almost 20 years ago, I had a rough exit from a church that I was leading. I knew that I was walking into a tough situation but felt clearly that God had led me there. Although I was a seasoned minister, I was a rookie when it came to church leadership, politics, and church dynamics. They ate me up and spit me out. And to be honest I was hurt, bitter and angry.
At first, I thought it was my fault and felt very guilty. That is till I had a happenstance meeting with one of the lay leaders a couple of years afterwards. When I tried to broach the topic of how my tenure ended badly—he was oblivious. His comment was telling, “no worries, sometimes things just don’t work out.” As he left, I thought to myself, “why am I beating myself up over this, they obviously don’t care a rip about me.” And then I moved into stage two- the unforgiveness stage. How dare they dismiss me so easily!
I tried to forgive but since there was no apology for my mistreatment, I had a hard time letting it go. It was obvious that they thought it was my fault and since I had publicly apologized for my part in the fiasco, they had forgiven me. In fact, our elders had a reconciliation group come in to try to work out the conflict. The guy leading the group after talking at length with people in the body gave me a startling report. He said, “I have been doing this a long time and I can’t find a person who has a problem with you.” I guess that is good. They had accepted my apology.
But I was bitter.
The passage we have been looking through in our last post in Matthew 18 Jesus culminates his teaching with this powerfully challenging thought. God forgives like you do.
32 “Then summoning him, his lord *said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 ‘Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ 34 “And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. 35 “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”
The scary part is that this is not the only place that Jesus says this:
Mark 11: 25 “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions.
Matthew 6: 14 “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 “But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.
Even in the Lord’s Prayer we see the same idea.
Matthew 6: 9 “Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. 10 ‘Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 ‘Give us this day our daily bread. 12 ‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 ‘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.”
Did you catch it? Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. I have probably read or recited that a thousand times but never realized that I was asking God to forgive me like I was forgiving others.
At some point in my forgiveness cycle, I realized that I need to forgive this church whether an apology ever came. I can still remember saying, “Lord even though I am hurt and there is no adequate apology coming, I forgive.”
I wish I could say that was it and I never struggled with feelings of bitterness again, but I continue to forgive by faith. Even as I write this my sense of justice rears its ugly head and says, “that was not right”. But I forgive.
The game changer for me with this church was that I began to pray for them. I began to ask God to bless them and use them in the community to expand His kingdom. I thanked Him for the little part that I got to play in their journey to glorify God in that part of the world. And I am grateful about the many lessons that I learned in that season of life. And I thank Him for forgiveness.
His forgiveness of me the sinner.
His strength to be able to forgive others from the heart.
America needs a little more forgiveness if we are going to navigate these difficult waters that our culture is going through right now. We need to do a better job of asking for forgiveness. And a better job forgiving. We need to forgive others like we want to be forgiven by others and by God.