"As We Forgive Those . . ."
AS WE FORGIVE THOSE . . .
If you donít forgive you will not be forgiven. No part of His [Jesus'] teaching is clearer, and there are no exceptions to it. He doesnít say that we are to forgive other peopleís sins provided they are not too frightful, or provided there are extenuating circumstances, or anything of that sort. We are to forgive them all, however spiteful, however mean, however often they are repeated. If we donít, we shall be forgiven none of our own. . . .
I find that when I think I am asking God to forgive me I am often . . . asking Him to do something quite different. I am asking Him not to forgive me but to excuse me. But there is all the difference in the world between forgiving and excusing. Forgiveness says, "Yes, you have done this thing, but I accept your apology; I will never hold it against you and everything between us will be exactly as it was before." But excusing says, "I see that you couldnít help it or didnít mean it; you werenít really to blame." If one was not really to blame then there is nothing to forgive. . . . What we call "asking Godís forgiveness" very often really consists in asking God to accept our excuses. . . .
To excuse what can really produce good excuses is not Christian charity; it is only fairness. To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you. This is hard. It is perhaps not so hard to forgive a single injury. But to forgive the incessant provocations of daily lifeóto keep on forgiving the bossy mother-in-law, the bullying husband, the nagging wife, the selfish daughter, the deceitful sonóhow can we do it? Only, I think, by remembering where we stand, by meaning our word when we say in our prayers each night, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." We are offered forgiveness on no other terms. To refuse it means to refuse Godís mercy for ourselves. There is no hint of exceptions and God means what He says.
óC. S. Lewis (1898-1963), "On Forgiveness" (1947), in THE WEIGHT OF GLORY AND OTHER ADDRESSES, Revised and expanded edition. New York: Macmillan, 1980, pp. 122-125.
[This is hard stuff. In another place, Lewis writes, "We must forgive all our enemies or be damned" (GOD IN THE DOCK, 1940). Yes, O God, thank you for forgiving the inexcusable in us. Amen.]
Have a great week.
Director, Institute for Christian Worship
School of Church Music and Worship
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
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