Jesus taught us to pray, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” I would never pray such a thing if it were not in the Lord’s Prayer! It is asking God to treat me the way I treat others, and when I consider the way I often treat others, that is a scary thing to pray.
Immediately after teaching His disciples how to pray these words, Jesus said, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (St. Matthew 6:14-15) This is a hard teaching. But Jesus wants us to understand the truth that we cannot at the same time receive God’s grace and forgiveness and then refuse to give it.
If we are unwilling to forgive someone else, perhaps, we have not truly received God’s forgiveness.
In his essay on forgiveness, C.S. Lewis points out that we typically confuse asking for forgiveness with making excuses. We come to God (and others) pointing to all the circumstances that might have contributed to our sin. (I was tired, I was lonely, I was provoked, etc.) Of course, God understands our circumstances and our weaknesses, even more than we do! But, perhaps, after making our excuses, we forget to ask God to forgive that which is inexcusable in us–the very thing He is willing to do.
But the same is true with respect to our forgiveness of others. Forgiveness is not excusing bad behavior. If there is a good excuse for something, there is no need for forgiveness. But forgiveness begins precisely at the point where there is no excuse. And that is what God requires.
Of course, forgiveness is costly. If I forgive someone a debt, I am absorbing the cost myself. When I forgive someone for hurting me, I am absorbing the pain myself rather than turning it back against him. I am, in effect saying: I am willing to pay for your sins against me in order that our relationship may continue. But isn’t that precisely what Jesus did for us, when He died for us on the cross?!
Freely we have been given. Let us freely give!