Remember those times in school when you were able to just follow along while your teacher was explaining a topic, and it made so much sense that you didn’t bother to take notes or study that night for the next quiz, only to discover when reading the very first question, that your grasp of the subject wasn’t nearly as strong as you first thought? That’s where I am right now on the topic of forgiveness. I’m beginning to suspect that my earlier understanding of forgiveness may have been incomplete.
Maybe I should go back and review the definition of forgiveness. The Free Dictionary starts with “To give up resentment against or stop wanting to punish (someone) for an offense or fault”. That sounds simple enough. Forgiveness is something my preacher has covered many, many times, and it’s not too hard to see that without it you can wind up in a feud like the Hatfields and the McCoys that goes on so long that neither side can remember what the original disagreement was all about.
A Possible Motive
For Christians, forgiveness has a central role in the Lord’s PrayerD, which Jesus recited when asked by one of his disciples how they should pray to their God, as described in two places (Matthew Chapter 6, Verses 9 through 13 as well as Luke 11:2-4). Just for reference, the line in that prayer that is pertinent to this discussion goes something like “and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” For the longest time I focused only on the first half of that sentence. It was only recently that I woke up to the second clause and realized that when saying the prayer I hadn’t just been asking for blanket forgiveness, as I had originally thought, but was telling God to follow my lead – meaning if I wasn’t willing to forgive others, then He was off the hook for my own transgressions. That was sobering.
So here is my question. I would have gone to my preacher, but I was not sure he would have taken me seriously. And although I’m not the kind of person who takes everything literally (and I’m not suggesting that you are such a person, either), this question will use trespassing as the sin of choice. Suppose you are on your own property and you see somebody walking along. You identify yourself and ask them to leave. Do you forgive them before or after they leave your property? And if they refuse to leave, do you forgive them before or after you shoot them?
Here’s another aspect I’m not clear on. I guess you could call me greedy; for some time now I’ve wanted more from God than just forgiveness. What I’ve been praying for instead was to be cured of that particular sin so I don’t need to be forgiven over and over again. Would that be cheating?
Are those questions related somehow? Perhaps they are just two sides to the same coin.
Now it’s time for me to shut up and turn the discussion over to my readers. Any help you can give me toward greater understanding would be greatly appreciated.