The Shape of Forgiveness

If you’re part of a traditional church, you’re probably very familiar with the Lord’s Prayer. My guess is that you pray it every week or maybe even more often than that, probably to the point that you can recite it without much conscious thought. It’s a great outline of things that we can pray for: the ability to keep God’s name holy (or “hallowed”), for God to continue to provide us with our daily needs, for protection from temptation and evil. It’s a great reminder of the things that God does for us.

What’s interesting is the one petition that speaks about what we do:

Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

There are two ways to read that. On the one hand, we could read it as “We’ll both do a lot of forgiving, God, You and me together.” And that’s certainly a good picture of what Christianity can be.

But the other way to read that statement makes me cringe, just a little, and it has to do with one little word: “as.” Keeping that word in mind, we can read this petition as, “God, forgive us just as much as we are willing to forgive others.”

And that, my friends, is worrisome. Because let’s be honest, we are not the most forgiving of individuals. We like to bear grudges. We like to hold on to old hurts. We like to remember.

But what are we, as Christian people, called on to do?

We understand, academically, the call to forgive. But sometimes it’s hard to remember the shape of forgiveness in our lives.

This is especially true given the time of year it is.

twin towersJust a few days ago, we were inundated with calls to remember a horrific attack on the United States. My Facebook feed was filled with images of the Twin Towers. Some of them were from when they dominated the Manhattan skyline before the attack. Many were images of them burning after the attack. There were images from the memorial in New York, along with stories of the brave men and women who did what they could to help the victims.

It’s well and good to remember what happened. We especially should remember the people that we lost in the attack and those who sacrificed themselves in the hopes of saving the victims.

But I can’t help but wonder, what should the shape of forgiveness look like as we #NeverForget? Is there room for forgiveness, even in the middle of our remembering?

Or, to put it another way, how much would God be willing to forgive if He only forgives us as much as we forgive others?

It’s a tough question, I know, and I’m not saying this as someone who has mastered the whole forgiving people. Even as I’m writing this post, I can call to mind the people who have hurt me in the past, people who were cruel and callous, thoughtless in their words and actions, who did real harm to me that, in some ways, I’m still trying to cope with. I’ve said those words about forgiveness (and others like them) dozens of times, maybe even hundreds, but in spite of that, I still struggle.

But just because something is difficult doesn’t mean that we still shouldn’t try.

I guess what I’m trying to say can best be summed up by my friend, JR Foresteros:


As we grieve and mourn today, let’s remember not to confuse #NeverForget with #NeverForgive. We will never heal until we…

Posted by JR Madill Forasteros on Friday, September 11, 2015

The real question we should ask ourselves is this: not what the shape of forgiveness is, but how forgiveness will forgive us?

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