Forgive us our sins

Following on from the post about daily bread, I want to look at another line in the Lord’s Prayer. Matthew 6:12 says this (all passages from the NLT):

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and forgive us our sins,
as we have forgiven those who sin against us.

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In Matthew 6: 14-15, following immediately from the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus warns us:

“If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.

This is not saying that God’s forgiveness is contingent on our forgiveness of others: rather to accept His forgiveness we must first acknowledge our own need for it, and that we hold that need for forgiveness in common with all people. God does not forgive us because we forgive others: He offers forgiveness to all of us. But accepting His forgiveness requires that acknowledgement. In the Gospel of Mark we see this message reinforced (Mark 11:25):

“But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.”

God’s forgiveness of us is not the reward for our forgiveness of each other, but to accept His forgiveness our hearts must be open to it.

Paul takes up this theme of “forgive because you were first forgiven” in his letter to the Ephesians, where he writes (Eph 4:32):

Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

The emphasis is on the forgiveness that we should extend to others as a response to what Christ has already extended to us. Similarly, writing to the church in Colossae, Paul says (Col 3:13):

Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.

Note how these passages turns our human perspective of justice on its head. We are not told to forgive others so that God will forgive us, we are rather told that God has already forgiven us. We have done nothing and can do nothing to deserve God’s forgiveness, but he offers it before we can even ask. Our response must be to forgive others – not because they deserve it, but because God has shown us greater mercy and forgiveness.

This is intensely humbling. In the midst of our feelings of anger and indignation at wrongs done to us, we are reminded that we have all equally fallen short of God’s standards. We are reminded of how far He was willing to go to forgive us and seek reconciliation, even though it meant sending His only son to his death.

Expanding on this theme, Jesus told a parable which is recorded a few chapters later in Matthew 18:21-35:

Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”

“No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!

“Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him. In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars. He couldn’t pay, so his master ordered that he be sold—along with his wife, his children, and everything he owned—to pay the debt.

“But the man fell down before his master and begged him, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’ Then his master was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt.

“But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment.

“His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it,’ he pleaded. But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and put in prison until the debt could be paid in full.

“When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him everything that had happened.  Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt.

“That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.”

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Related posts:

Daily bread

Serious, not fanatical

Why the suffering?

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15 thoughts on “Forgive us our sins

  1. >“That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.”

    This is why I’m astonished when people say Christianity is a religion of love and peace. It is, unless you reject it; then, there’s hell to pay. This is the offer made by abusive boyfriends everywhere. Return my love, or else.

    I spoke with a non-Catholic woman who worked at Notre Dame recently. She expressed how inclusive Christianity is. Anyone can join! Everyone is welcome! She didn’t believe in hell, so to her, Jesus was just throwing an afterlife party and everyone was invited. Who would turn down such a free gift?

    Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, agnostics and pagans, that’s who. Just as Christians adopt the beliefs of their parents and turn down the offers of all other religions.

    Even without the threat of hell, Christianity is isn’t inclusive at all. Christopher Hitchens has pointed out that most religious amount to divine dictatorships. They offer fixed cosmologies that you had better get in line with. They’re the only game in town.

    Scientism says the same thing, but the dictatorship is nature. Few of us resent having to abide by the law of gravity. But there is no good reason a god should require us to profess certain things before we die to escape eternal torment. If the universe really is set up that way, I will volunteer for hell. They’ll need people to carry water. And countless good souls will be there to share my misery.

    • Consider this:

      We were made with bodies that require water to survive. If we are deprived of water, the horrors that we face are terrible. The slow agonising death as our tissues dehydrate is torment.

      I believe that we are made to be in a relationship with God.

      If we deliberately cut ourselves off from that relationship, I believe that the resulting devastation of the soul is equally terrible. But I do not see this as God punishing us – we punish ourselves with the consequences of sin. God will gladly save us from those consequences, but we need to accept that offer.

  2. >God will gladly save us from those consequences, but we need to accept that offer.

    Which god? Current estimates say there are 100,000,000 Earth-like planets in our galaxy alone. Is the same deal offered to all conscious beings? Do all those planets get their own Messiah?

    If faith is a virtue, then why would those who adopt the beliefs of their parents be punished? Then of course, we have the conundrum of whether infants who die go to heaven. If they do, then we should kill them before they stray. If they don’t, well that seems harsh. The Catholics solve this with Invincible Ignorance, which leads to this absurdity:

    Eskimo: If I didn’t know about Jesus, would I go to Heaven?
    Priest: If you didn’t know, yes.
    Eskimo: Then why did you tell me?

    A god could set up the universe any way he wishes. Setting things up so that we suffer if we refuse to suckle at his teat alone is a form of slavery. Your metaphor suggest thirst, but to outsiders it’s more like they have been inoculated and can only get the antidote from Jesus.

    Add to all this the fact of human suffering, caused both by other humans and natural events, and you have a god that is either sadistic or indifferent. Either way, he’s cruel and salvation consists of toeing the company line or withering. A cosmic North Korea.

    The Christians I know don’t see it this way, of course. They are in love. They say, “You don’t know Him like I do.” Well, I am a former believer. I had the vital spiritual experience and I was grateful I had been born into the one true religion. As I grew up, the exclusivity, the cruelty, the absurdity and the lack of evidence pinched more and more. Still, it was hard to undo my indoctrination.

    I escaped from religion, which for me was a form of abuse. I want those who are recovering from religion to know they are not alone.

  3. The good news, of course, is that there is no deity to assuage, to be angry with or to be afraid of. We are conscious animals who have evolved on a warm planet. As such, we are subject to all the indifference and cruelty of nature, but we are not alone. We have each other. We are the only angels people are likely to see. If God existed, we would have to arrest him for negligence. When kids die alone and in agony, He doesn’t even call 911. We created him to comfort ourselves, but on examination, we’d have to try him on crimes against humanity.

    The human condition makes sense, but only without a loving god in the picture.

    • “Everything is meaningless,” says the Teacher, “completely meaningless!” (Ecc. 1:2)

      I’m not going to respond in any detail to the specifics of your vent, but I am intrigued by one thing: by what standards do you judge God’s behaviour?

  4. We are conscious animals who have evolved on a warm planet.

    That’s one of several interesting, albeit baseless, statements of faith you’re making. It sounds like there’s a lot of emotion tied up with your beliefs that in part require a reactionary dimension toward the beliefs of others (notably Christians based on your past experience(s)?).

    … by what standards do you judge God’s behaviour?

    This is an interesting question. IMO not believing in Godde ought to remove the emotional intensity and even the need for a critique of Godde and faith in Godde, especially when recognising that the atheist + evolutionary perspectives are likewise religious worldviews.

  5. My vent was what I felt as my faith fell away. I was in transition. Today, of course, those feelings are mostly gone. I am grateful to be alive in this wondrous universe, to be able to love and help my fellows, and to ponder it all. I don’t need an afterlife or a superfriend to make it worthwhile. My words are what I would say if Yahweh existed. He doesn’t, so they are moot.

    I am sometimes angry with people who explain away the suffering of children with platitudes like “God has a plan”. It seems selfish and heartless to minimize the suffering of others to make oneself feel better. Below is an article I wrote about this. Michael might delete it; I may have posted it before. Friend me on facebook and you’ll have access to it.

    [edit – Essay deleted. Sorry, but it’s off topic and really needs a post of its own]

  6. to Richard Dawkins:

    “You’re one of the most purposeful men I know. How do you live with such a grim philosophy?”

    Dawkins:
    “The universe has no purpose, but I do.”

    • … and what exactly is that purpose?

      To spout non-scientific claptrap (like the sentence above) and pretend that it’s rationally grounded?

  7. Nice article, as usual. This is one of the things I think of when people say since salvation is by faith alone, you don’t need to do anything. Yet the Bible is fully of if/then statements. It is God who saved us and not we ourselves, but he still has requirements of our behavior.

    On an unrelated note, I can’t help but notice Don’s argument is a mess which seems to randomly scatter in all directions, while Sentinel maintains focus.

  8. Pingback: Our Father « Spiritual Meanderings

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