That Perfect was place to dwell
And not a sometime ocean swell.
And though I’m lifted now and then
To heights of flawless regimen
I cannot always perfect sail
And so from time to time . . . I fail!
© Greg Austin, 2013.
We’ve all heard it and used it, though it most often rings hollow to hearts well acquainted with failure, mistake, the gaffes and the errors of life:
“To err is human,”
The completion of that idiom is often omitted: “to forgive, divine.”
Yet forgiveness is not intended by our God to be within the exclusive domain of His capacity and simple, loving care for each of His creation. Indeed, His word compels us to forgive others, and that we must forgive even ourselves if we would be forgiven of God. In a portion of scripture no less central to the heart of God than the invocation we call “The Lord’s Prayer,” we find the principle: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”
“Forgive us . . . as . . .” It is a conditional equation. I forgive, and He forgives. If I withhold forgiveness, He withholds His forgiveness. He is teaching us. He must lead us in the heart-act of forgiving if we are to understand Him, His heart, His mercy.
It is a fundamental of His character: God is love, and love therefore must become fundamental to our lives. And love is not amorphous, it is not nebulous, but love walks in the flesh of man, love reaches with hands worn rough and hard through life’s necessary work, and love touches in the gentle embrace of a mother’s arms.
Love must therefore forgive, else the effort can be called by many things, but it cannot be called “love.”
Matthew chooses the term, “debts.” The Greek of 6:12 means “that which is owed.” The Greek for “debtors” is “one who owes another.”
Matthew uses “debts” to indicate “sins,” but Luke, a physician is more direct. “Forgive us our sins (hamartia rather than ophelilema).
Mirriam-Webster describes “trespass” as “a violation of moral or social ethics: TRANSGRESSION; especially: SIN.” Our “trespasses” are more than slip-ups, boo boos, blunders or errors: They are sins. And sin brings forth death. Sin must be dealt with, forgiven, absolved, carried away.
When we have sinned against another, whether by design or unintentionally, our first response must be to enter the arena of forgiveness. We must ask God’s forgiveness, but the progression in the Lord’s Prayer is clear: “Forgive us . . . as we forgive (others).” The forgiveness of God is not the first gift we must seek! Forgiving others comes first, and even as we forgive, God is forgiving us. We cannot enjoy God’s forgiveness without the accompanying forgiveness of others – again, even if the “other” is our self. Forgiving my brother, my sister, myself is critical to receiving and appropriating God’s forgiveness! Forgiving is crucial to becoming more like God.
I “sinned” against a church last Sunday. I shared what I was fully convinced was factual, accurate, reliable, troubling but honestly presented truth in support of my main message. I invited my listeners to investigate the legitimacy of my words. “Don’t take my word alone; research, study, discover for yourself” I encouraged. And people did. I had been caught by a satirical presentation that I hadn’t noticed was satire.
Me, the guy who chastises his friends for not checking apparent facts with an “Urban Legends” website fell prey to sloppy investigation, hurried research and just plain humanity. Indeed, if ever I had reason to suspect I’m not divine, not even close to perfect, I’ve just gotten my report card. As my little poem above declares, “from time to time…I fail.”
And that’s really the point of this brief examination of the subject of forgiveness: I fail. You fail. We all, every one of us, fails. That’s why God provided for us a Savior. It’s the reason Jesus descended from His heavenly throne to occupy a place of little honor on this planet. It’s why He lived the PERFECT life and died a perfect death. Because when He rose again, He did so with power to break all the miserable chains of our failures. He rose victorious over hell, death and the grave and, oh yes, He arose victorious over imperfection, failure, trespass. His blood has washed away my sin and yours. His grace has provided freedom from the guilt of our failure and, if you will forgive me, He will forgive you, as He has forgiven me as I forgave myself.
There will most surely be more MISTEAKS . . . uh, mistakes to come, but when they do, the power and the availability of the blood of Jesus will once again be declared. God will be glorified, and we will be forgiven.