This idea has been bothering me lately, that God will forgive us as we forgive others. This theme doesn’t just show up in the Our Father. It also shows up in the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:23), in Mark 11:25, and in Luke 6:37. Jesus is pretty clear on this. We’d better forgive others, or else.
Or else we won’t be forgiven.
And that’s a pretty serious thing. Some months ago, I realized that there were a couple of very small grudges that I had been holding on to for years, without paying much attention to them or being particularly aware that that was what I was doing. I repented, let go of the grudges, and confessed it at my next confession.
Suddenly that phrase “forgive us as we forgive others” had a very personal meaning. Had God not been forgiving me completely, because I had not forgiven others completely? Isn’t that what “as” means – that however much I forgive others is how much God is forgiving me? I had been holding a grudge against someone, so God was holding a grudge against me? But God doesn’t hold grudges. Jesus forgave those who killed him; how could a little unforgiveness be difficult to forgive compared to that?
I decided to reread the parable of the unforgiving servant in an attempt to resolve this dilemma. Although I knew the parable well, I hoped for some piece of insight somewhere*. So I started off, getting right into “A king decided to settle the accounts of his servants.”
And that was as far as I got.
Because, to me, “settling accounts” is like a giant codeword for “Last Judgement”. You know, the one where everything that is hidden comes to light, and all accounts are settled, once and for all. Paid in Full. Suddenly the perspective on the whole parable was shifted. Instead of my own little grudges that I had let go of, I pictured someone at the Last Judgement, still refusing to forgive their brother. I mean, really, what’s God supposed to do in that situation? Say, “Sure, you can enter heaven, even though you hate your brother who is also here”? No, no I don’t think so. It’s the Last Judgment. There’s no more later opportunities to repent and forgive your brother. If you still can’t then, you’re stuck hating him for all eternity.
So I saw something then. It’s not that unforgiveness is a worse sin than other sins, or that God can’t forgive it. But, like all sins, even if God isn’t holding a grudge against us while we do them, he can’t forgive us in any meaningful way until we stop sinning. And in the case of unforgiveness, the only way to stop sinning is to forgive.
I saw that I had been thinking of that “forgive us as we forgive others”, as if God was sitting there with some little “forgiveness-measuring device”, so that however much forgiveness we doled out to others, that was how much forgiveness He gave us, with nano-absolve precision. No wonder it violated my idea of an unstintingly loving God. Now when I say “forgive us as we forgive others”, I think of the “as” as meaning “when” or “as soon as”.** This draws out the picture of a God who is eagerly waiting for us to forgive others, so that he in turn can offer us his full forgiveness.
* It was actually an interesting moment for me. I sat there with the Bible in my lap, opened to the parable, about to read it. But then I had this strong thought that it was a complete waste of time for me to even try to read it, because I already knew the parable and wasn’t going to gain any new insights out of it. I was so sure of that, I almost closed the Bible. When I did actually start reading and immediately had my insight, I knew for sure that prior thought had been a temptation from the Enemy.
** Both the English “as” and the Greek “os” of the Bible (which is translated into “as”) can mean either “according as” or “when”.
Anna Macdonald is a homeschooling mom of five who lives in Oregon and is creative, daring and insightful enough to sign up to analyze words like “as.” She has a great blog here, and also runs a fabulous email list in which she shares stories of God working in people’s lives that you’ll want to check out.
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