If most of us were to be perfectly honest, there are probably some people whom we would rather not forgive and be reconciled to.
Sadly, those towards whom we retain an irreconcilable attitude may have once been very close to us. Friends, family members: parents, children, siblings, husbands and wives – or ex husbands and wives. We probably should not be too surprised about this, as the first recorded murder in the bible was of one brother who murdered his other brother, and throughout history, family feuds have gone on for generations.
Of course, ongoing animosity also occurs between strangers; especially when one has committed a crime against another, or where two groups – gangs, tribes or nations – perpetuate hatred for no other reason than some perceived differences between them.
The problem for those of us who seek to be followers of Jesus, is that a refusal to forgive others – whoever they are or whatever they have done – is one of the few things that disqualifies us from receiving God’s forgiveness for ourselves. Probably the most commonly known and regularly prayed prayer, usually termed ‘The Lord’s Prayer’, is very explicit about the matter: “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us.” Just to make certain that his followers understood this to mean exactly what it appears to mean, Jesus went on to say very clearly, “If you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their sins, neither will your Father forgive your sins”.
I have come to the place of taking that very seriously. As far as I am aware I no longer hold anything against anyone, and this has proved to be a very positive experience. Not only has my assurance of God’s forgiveness toward me grown stronger, but I have found that God has been warming my heart a little towards those with whom I could take issue if I followed my own natural inclinations.
As I have considered the matter, it has struck me afresh how churches often seem to crop the gospel and leave out some of its vital elements. In recent years, I cannot recall hearing any gospel message that has included the need for reconciliation with others, the emphasis tending to be on the need that we have for forgiveness. We do need forgiveness, but as our forgiveness is dependent on our forgiving others, it seems to me that our need to forgive should take precedence over our need to be forgiven.
One of the things I have observed about the issue of forgiving others, is that unwillingness to do so is not necessarily connected to the magnitude of what needs to be forgiven. It is more understandable when someone struggles about reconciliation after infidelity in marriage, physical or sexual abuse or even murder, but sometimes long-term enmity can arise from no more than an imagined slight or a small disagreement. However, Jesus never differentiated between small sins and large ones. It is the fact of refusing to forgive another that disqualifies us from receiving God’s forgiveness, whether what needs to be forgiven is no more than a misunderstanding or the most horrific pre-meditated abuse.
That may seem to be unfair, until we grasp that God will forgive us regardless of the level of our sin, and the condition of forgiving others is simply on a similar basis to how he forgives us. It is always God’s will to forgive, and in our prayers we pray for his will to be done, so forgiving others essentially means that we align our will with his. Very few of us will achieve the ongoing ability to forgive others without first surrendering our will to God’s will, but when we do that unreservedly, we will find that he will enable us to do what we previously considered neither possible nor desirable.